Jesus: Introvert or Extrovert? (Luke 5:12-16)

A 4th century mural of Jesus from the Catacomb of Commodilla, Rome, Italy

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.

Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (New International Version)

Occasionally, I ask fellow clergy colleagues this question: “Was Jesus an introvert, or an extrovert?”

Let me be clear that extroversion and introversion are neither sinful nor blessed – they both are personality traits that cannot be changed any more than tiger stripes. That’s important to state upfront because some clergy make it about personal choices instead of inherent brain wiring.

So, setting aside the anti-reality kooky answers to my question, I’ve found that extroverted pastors, almost without fail, tell me Jesus was an extrovert. And they make a solid case for it. 

Conversely, with solid consistency, introverted pastors tell me Jesus was an introvert. And they give compelling reasons for it, as well. 

I believe the answer to my own question is that both are correct. Jesus, as the perfect human, displays the best of both extroversion and introversion. And Christ’s personality comes through wonderfully in today’s Gospel lesson.

This short story of healing begins with Jesus fully engaged in walking the city, a man of the people, interacting with the crowd, attentive to even the most marginal of them. Christ’s extroverted nature is on full display. Jesus, as the superb Son of God, is willing and ready; he fully heals the man from his leprosy. 

Jesus healing the leper, 12th century mosaic, Monreale Cathedral, Sicily, Italy

As the news of this people-centered Healer spread, more and more people flock to Jesus. An extroverted person would bask in the situation of having more people to connect with. 

However, the story ends with the note that, instead of engaging the mass of people and gaining energy from the crowd, Jesus would withdraw to quiet and deserted places in order to pray. I can think of no better description of an introvert that could be said.

Jesus lived on this earth in a way that modeled and demonstrated how humanity was truly meant to live. 

Christ had consistent rhythms of both human and divine engagement. He spent time with people – lots of them. The Lord talked and taught, healed and moved, from one person to next with all the seeming random activity of the extrovert. 

Yet, the Lord Jesus also consistently withdrew from all the people to be in solitude. He spent healthy amounts of extended time alone with his heavenly Father, deeply connected with him. 

We, too, need good healthy rhythms of being with others in effective and prolonged interaction, as well as extended time alone with God in silence and solitude.

Extroverts must understand that nowhere in Holy Scripture will you find that we have been called by God to be talkers. But instead, you will find a lot of biblical references on being called to servanthood. The Lord does not accept us because of our many words; God approves of us because of divine grace and the state of our hearts. 

My children, we should love people not only with words and talk, but by our actions and true caring. (1 John 3:18, NCV)

Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut. (Proverbs 10:19, NLT)

And introverts need to appreciate that the spoken word, not just the written word, is important and powerful. The world was created through divine speech. Jesus healed with words that people heard. And conversations with others are the effective means of restoring this fallen planet to Paradise.

By speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ. (Ephesians 4:15, CEB)

Encourage each other every day while you have the opportunity. If you do this, none of you will be deceived by sin and become stubborn. (Hebrews 3:13, GW)

Perhaps we might encounter more of the miraculous in our lives if we emulated the healthy rhythms of Jesus. The Spirit works in us and through us so that the words and ways of Jesus on this earth may impact a mass of humanity that desperately needs Christ’s healing from a heart that is deeply connected to God.

Loving Lord Jesus, I am in awe of your capacity to engage all kinds of people, as well as your close relationship to the heavenly Father. Let me be like you in the ability to move freely and effectively between human interaction and divine prayer so that the church is edified, and the world is blessed. Amen.

Luke 19:45-48 – Jesus Cleans House

A bronze panel of Jesus chasing the merchants from the Temple by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455)

When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words. (New International Version)

Jesus seems a bit like an actor in an old western movie. He’s the sheriff who drifts into town, sizes up the situation, shoots up the bad guys, defends the women and children, and cleans up the town. 

It’s a side to Jesus that might surprise some.

Jesus is no simple one-dimensional person, as if he’s always calm and picking dandelions. Christ is fully human and fully God – a complex person full of both human and divine anger. Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us that Jesus defies stereotyping, and that we need to see a fuller profile of who he is, and what he is up to.

Jesus is not only the merciful servant who graciously heals at the temple; but he is also a mighty judge who is intolerant of unjust systems and cleans house. 

Because Jesus is superior to everything, he is not some Being that we can domesticate for our own personal use. He did not come to this earth as some sort of spiritual vitamin supplement, or to be on call 24/7 in order to bail us out when we need it, or help us get ahead in life.

Instead, zeal for his Father’s house consumes Jesus. (John 2:13-17)

Jesus driving the merchants out of the Temple by Raymond Balze (1818-1909)

Christ sought to please the Father. Jesus oversees what the church and Christians are supposed to be. 

It’s our task to conform to Christ, and not the other way around. 

That happens whenever we let Jesus be the sheriff who drives out our sin, and, at the same time, the town doctor who brings the needed healing to our lives. 

Jesus cleaned house by attacking the system he saw operating.

It was Passover, the time when all pious Israelites made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Cattle, sheep, and doves were used for sacrifices. And the only place where those sacrifices were made was at the Temple in Jerusalem.  This meant that anyone wanting to worship God from outside of Jerusalem would have to do some traveling. 

Over time, a system was set up: Vendors established kiosks which lined the Temple courts; and they sold animals for the required sacrifices, as a matter of convenience. 

Since there were thousands of folks who came from a long way, often from outside of Israel, they brought their foreign currency with them, and it could be exchanged at the tables set up by money-changers.

Perhaps that all sounds practical. A little capitalism which provides a service for the people doesn’t seem all bad. So, what’s the problem? 

Jesus didn’t have a problem with capitalism per se; his problem with the whole system is that it should not even exist – these guys should not be in the Temple, at all! 

Jesus attacked the system and made a western movie scene out of it because the vendors and money-changers, even if using sound business practices (which they weren’t) should not even be there. For Jesus, it trivialized the Temple and took away from its intended purpose as a house of prayer for all nations.

Here’s how the system was supposed to work:

Coming to the Temple from outside of Jerusalem was never intended to be easy or convenient.

Making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was supposed to be difficult. For the past year, since the last Passover, a family raised a newborn lamb in their house. Parents and children all took part in caring for it.

Then, when it was time, they all journeyed to Jerusalem together, taking turns carrying the year old lamb over their shoulders. Everyone knew what was coming. Their precious lamb, now a cherished part of the family, would be given in sacrifice at the Temple.

It was all a very powerful reminder of sin’s cost and how terrible it truly is.

Entering Jerusalem with no animal, and only money to buy one, is a cheap facsimile of real worship.

It misses the entire point of the system. It hinders people from genuinely connecting with God through prayer.  And Jesus will not put up with it – to the point of violently driving the whole system out of the Temple.

Jesus didn’t mess around with the sinful system. He didn’t politely ask the money-changers to move their tables somewhere else; he didn’t strike a deal with those selling animals to market them at cost. No. Instead, he went all town sheriff on them because the whole system was a blasphemous act against the right and true worship of God.

It has been the sin of the Church, through the centuries, to find ways of doing ministry and worship by not actually doing it (e.g., selling indulgences). 

We might feel good by simply attending a worship service, or offering some obligatory prayers, and giving money without having done anything to meaningfully connect with God. Our devotion may not be toward bringing something of ourselves to sacrifice by using our spiritual gifts and laying our lives down for others. 

It’s really a heart issue. For example, we might rightly give to missionaries or mission projects. Yet, if we give without any thought to doing missions ourselves and being missional people, then we are in grave need of having a clean house by overturning the tables in our hearts. 

17th century Ethiopian depiction of Christ cleansing the Temple

Jesus cleaning house was not an end in itself; he did it so that the Temple could be used for its intended purpose: A house of prayer. A place of healing. A gathering of collective praise to God.

Whenever an existing system is challenged, there will be those who push back because they benefit from the way things are.

The religious leaders were incensed by Christ’s systemic change. The behavior of Jesus challenged their authority, and they were angry about losing some of their power – not to mention jealous and envious that the people hung on his every word.

Jealousy rots the bones. Envy and selfish ambition accompany every evil practice and are behind every evil system. (Proverbs 14:30; James 3:14-16)

The real culprit behind the Temple system, as well as our own conflicts and disagreements is our selfish anger, our abject jealousy that someone else is receiving something which should be mine, and our insidious envy of wanting what another has.

Jesus knew he would upset and anger the religious leaders. But he cared enough about the proper place of worship that he attacked the contrived Temple system that fed on obscuring what real sacrifice was. Christ was willing to take on the establishment and reestablish a house of prayer for all people.

The way for us has been made clear through the death of Christ. Jesus has removed the old system and replaced it with the new. (Hebrews 8:13)

Therefore, we ought to be a beacon of hope for all who are coming to God and desire to offer their sacrifice of service or praise. We must eliminate any system, rule, or practice that eviscerates true worship.

May we follow the Lord Jesus by being active and proactive in making the way clear for others to come to God. And the first step to doing so is by having God clean house on our own hearts.

It’s what a good deputy sheriff would do.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Amen.

The Rhythms of Jesus

The Solitude of Christ by French painter Alphonse Osbert, 1897

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her.So, he went to her, took her hand, and helped her up. The fever left her, and she began to wait on them.

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

Incredibly early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So, he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues, and driving out demons.

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.

Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead, he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:29-39, NIV)

Solitude by Russian painter Tatiana Yushmanova

We need rhythm.  Everything in life is rhythmic. Each new year moves with the rhythm of the four seasons. Our hearts beat in rhythm. When we walk, our gait is in a distinct rhythm. When talking, we speak with a rhythmic cadence. We sing and make music because of rhythm. We need healthy rhythms of waking and sleeping.

When our rhythm is off, we are off. Busy or unhealthy lifestyles can insidiously drag us away from the spiritual rhythms we need for healthy living. Over time, it may go unnoticed that our rhythm is off.  For many folks, normal is getting dressed in clothes bought for work, driving through traffic in a car still being paid for, to go to a job to pay for the clothes, car, house, and other stuff that is left empty of life all day to afford to live in it. Many people are oriented more by the rhythms of work, school, and sports than by a connection to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Our 24/7 world demands more time and resources, convincing us we can never slow down or take a break. Some people know their rhythm is off and out of sync with God’s ways but feel powerless to change it. So, how do we restore the unforced rhythms of God’s grace to the center of our stressed and chaotic lives without being overwhelmed by a new set of time commitments? To have healthy rhythms of life, we must look to Jesus.

Jesus was continually filled with the life of God the Father and therefore was always overflowing with that life to others. Christ had a rhythm of life which was oriented around times of inner solitude with his heavenly Father, and times of outward spiritual care to people.  Jesus needed regular, dedicated time for solitude and prayer for the rigors of ministry. So then, how much more do we!

There are two distinct sections in today’s Gospel lesson: Christ’s outward healing ministry; and his inward attention to solitude and prayer. By examining Jesus and following his rhythms of life, we can find the way to living healthy fulfilled spiritual lives as Christians.

The outward healing ministry of Jesus was powerful and effective.

Jesus was committed to helping and healing people with the authority given him. Peter’s mother-in-law was sick. Every sickness in the ancient world was serious and could easily result in either permanent physical damage or death. In a clear demonstration of power, Jesus simply took her by the hand and raised her up to new life. As soon the fever left her, the woman immediately began serving the people in the house. The proper response to being healed by Christ is to become a servant of others. 

13th Century Byzantine Church mosaic of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law

Jesus and the disciples were in the little village of Capernaum, and being a small town, the news spread quickly of what happened with Peter’s mother-in-law. As a result, by evening, every sick and demonized person in the village showed up to see Jesus. Christ healed them all and confronted the demonic among them. Jesus wanted to avoid creating a circus and desired to move about freely, so he commanded the demons not to speak, because they knew who he was and what he was up to.

Healing is wonderful. Talking about it, not so much. Discussing healing is difficult because seeing one person healed and restored while another person is not, defies simple answers. So, I offer a few biblical observations about this human conundrum we all have likely experienced.

  • Healing narratives in the Gospels say much more about Jesus than about us. 

Jesus has the power and authority to overthrow demons, cure the incurable, and restore people to health. It is all a sign that the kingdom of God is near, and when the kingdom comes in all its fullness, there will be no more sickness, pain, or demonic influence.

  • Good health, security, and safety are not necessarily a sign of God’s presence any more than pain and suffering are signs of God’s punishment, or a lack of personal faith. 

We have enough stories in the Bible to let us know we are not privy to the big picture of what God is doing. We will not always see what the Lord is up to and very well may never have an answer to our questions, this side of heaven.

  • Every person who is healed today will eventually get sick again and someday die. 

Even Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, died again. The ultimate meaning of any person’s healing is more than the physical – it affects the entire person – body, mind, emotions, soul, and spirit. For example, forgiveness is many times the needed miracle before any kind of physical healing can occur.

Sometimes the greatest miracle of all is our response to sickness and suffering.  A surgeon, Richard Selzer, describes one such miracle:  “I stood by the bed where a young woman lies in post-op after surgery, her mouth twisted looking clownish.  A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed to remove a tumor in her cheek.  Her young husband is in the room.  He stood on the opposite side of the bed as if I were not really in the room, his full attention on her.  She asked me, ‘Will my mouth always be like this?’  ‘Yes, it will, because the nerve has been cut,’ I say.  She nodded somberly.  But the young husband began to smile.  He said, ‘I like it; it is kind of cute.’  He bent down to kiss her crooked mouth and I was close enough to see how he twisted his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works.”

Perhaps the kind of healing we all need is the ability to receive God’s love in the person of Jesus who has accommodated himself to us.

Christ did not spend every waking moment with people, teaching and healing. Jesus knew that working without prayer, rest, and solitude is not realistic and rarely ends well.

The inward prayer and solitude of Jesus caused him to be powerful and effective.

Early the next morning after a day of healing ministry, Jesus got up and went to be alone with the Father. The fact that Peter and the disciples hunted him down when they could not find him, shows they did not quite see the same value of solitude that Jesus did. In Christ’s healthy rhythm of life, he included significant doses of solitude with his Father.

It is important for believers to spend generous portions of time with God. If we fail to do this, God has ways of getting our attention. We must slow down and calm our racing thoughts enough to listen. Human suffering is a great way to meet Jesus!  We cannot rush from task to task and expect to live a healthy spiritual life.  We need time with Jesus.

“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”

Pablo Picasso

Only through a healthy rhythm of life that includes solitude and prayer will we have clear direction for our daily lives, and wisdom for sound decision-making.  Jesus came away from his time of solitude having re-connected with his purpose for being on earth.  It was his clear conviction that he must travel and not just stay in one place.

Traveling is important to the Christian life.  I am not talking about moving from state to state like I have done in my life; I mean that we must keep moving, like walking across the room to engage others we do not know. Our lives become stagnant when we only ever interact in our small circle of friends and family. 

So, Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, convinced to do so through his time of solitude and prayer, to spread the good news of God’s benevolent kingdom and drive out demons wherever he went.  Even in this we are to imitate our Lord.

Driving out demons is, yes, a literal reference. The demons were driven out so that people could be liberated and experience freedom and connection in community, since most demonized people were always in solitude. They were freed so that they could have healthy rhythms of life of not just solitude but of ministry, service, and community. Hell is a separation from God and others.  Jesus came to bring relational health and wholeness through relational connection.

Conclusion

Both continual work and prolonged withdrawal from others is unhealthy.  To always be working and serving eventually leads to bitterness, exhaustion, and burn-out.  To always be alone (even in a crowd) and not serving leads to spiritual sickness.  It may be counter-intuitive for us to break away from work, but solitude and prayer will help us more productive.

If we are constantly on the go, there is healing available through solitude. If we are continually withdrawn from others, then the healing we need will come through engaging with others and moving past passivity.

To attach and detach, to connect and let go, to engage and desist, are spiritual rhythms of life that we must hone and practice so that we will be healthy persons for ourselves and for others.

The Christian Year

 
 
            You might often notice that I refer to events or significant Sundays on “The Church Calendar.”  The Christian Calendar or Christian Year refers to a yearlong calendar that marks time according to God’s activities rather than ours.  It is to live life in a rhythm with Christ at the center of our worship.
 
            Time is referenced in the Bible as both chronological and seasonal.  The Christian Year is a co-mingling of both of these kinds of time.  We as Christians celebrate events in which God acted in history for the benefit of his people.  In order to remember those moments, dates have been assigned on the Christian Calendar so that we will not forget these significant events and praise God for what he has done.
 
            So, then, to observe the Christian Year helps us as God’s people to recall and retell the story of God, especially the redemptive events of Jesus.  In doing so, it provides a guide for our spiritual growth.  The Christian Calendar is arranged in such a way as to proclaim the gospel over the course of a year.  One of the ways that helps us to remember particular seasons is through the liturgical colors:  purple signifies a time for preparation and penitence; white represents celebration, joy, and victory; green lets us know it is time to focus on spiritual growth and mission; and, red helps us recall the Passion of Christ and the fire of the Holy Spirit.
 
The Christian Year is organized and arranged with these seasons: 
 
Advent – The Christian Year begins not on January 1, but four Sundays before Christmas Day and up to Christmas Eve.  The purpose of Advent is to anticipate the incarnation and prepare us to celebrate the coming of Jesus.  We are also reminded that Jesus will return again at the end of the age.
 
Christmas – Yes, Christmas is more than just a day on the church calendar and encompasses the twelve days from December 25 to January 5 (you may recognize the 12 Days of Christmas).  Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ.
 
Epiphany – Epiphany follows Christmas from January 6 to the day before Ash Wednesday.  The term Epiphany means “manifestation.”  This is a celebration of God’s revelation, his manifestation to the entire world, not just the Jews, but the Gentiles, as well.  Epiphany emphasizes Christ’s earthly ministry of teaching, healing, and preaching.
 
Lent – There are forty days in the season of Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday.  Lent is a time to recall Christ’s temptation, conflict, suffering, and death.  It is a season to contemplate our discipleship in light of Christ’s Passion, engage in repentance, and put deliberate focus on spiritual disciplines.
 
Easter – As with Christmas, Easter is not only one Sunday; it is a season of fifty days up to the day of Pentecost.  Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus; helps us recognize our new life in Christ; and, includes celebrating the Ascension of our Lord.
 
Pentecost – This season runs from Eastertide to the Sunday before Advent.  Pentecost celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the church, acknowledges our spiritual power, and calls us to rejoice in receiving God’s power.
 
Ordinary Time – This is the same season as Pentecost.  Ordinary time refers to the ongoing work of the church to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the typical, expected, ordinary work of ministry that Christ’s followers are to do.
 

 

            As we are now embarking upon the longest season of the Christian Year, Ordinary Time, we remember and realize that it is our joyful duty to follow Jesus and obey his commands in our normal everyday lives as Christians.  Wherever we go, the gospel of Jesus Christ goes with us.  May we experience together the journey in this ordinary time of seeing others come to Christ and our faith strengthened in the power of the Spirit.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.