Instead of using this former leper’s healing to grow his number of followers, Jesus tells the man to report to the priest quietly. Jesus refuses to manipulate this miracle to elevate his public profile, knowing that whatever fame and power the crowds might give him would come easily, but would be empty and fleeting. When the masses find him anyway, Jesus is compassionate to teach and to heal. But he is also not afraid to leave them.
Surely that first group of disciples contains a spiritual entrepreneur who is ready to give Jesus regular updates on the numbers of people that show up to hear him. This person probably advises Jesus on what to say and do to gain more followers and shares. But Jesus has a frustrating habit of running away just when he is gaining momentum. John even tells a story about Jesus slipping away just as the people are trying to make him king.
Retreating to deserted places with Jesus goes against our instincts. Shaped by a culture of evangelical fervor and reality TV celebrity, it feels obvious that we should not refuse anything that would give us more power and influence. But what is not so obvious is the way that we tie our worth to our sense of how powerful or influential we are. How many teenagers do you know who obsess about their number of likes on Instagram? How many churches do you know that fixate on Sunday attendance numbers?
Such behavior is literally killing us as individuals and institutions.
What would happen if we stopped relying on the crowd to affirm us?
What if we were concerned less about the influence we had over others and more about the influence Jesus has on our own souls?
In what ways are you looking to the crowd to affirm you today?
God who knit me together in my mother’s womb, help me drown out the voices of the crowd so that I may hear you call me fearfully and wonderfully made. Amen. (Ps 139:13-14)