You see this picture on the left, friends? That is a chameleon. I’m sure you already knew that. You see that picture on the right? That’s not a chameleon. That’s a human. I’m telling you this because I had an epiphany a few days ago. I have spent many, many years trying to be a chameleon instead of a human being, without even realizing it.
Recently in my time with God, I came upon a story recorded by John that I’ve read many times, but as is often the case, I’ve missed some pretty obvious points. If you care to read it yourself, it’s in the entire fifth chapter of John. The summary is that Jesus heals a man who’s been sick for 38 years, which I think we’d all agree is wonderful, but the Pharisees had the opposite reaction. They see the guy carrying his mat (that he no longer needed, on account of the healing), and they get their panties all in a wad. “You can’t carry things on the Sabbath!”
Ok, so the first thing that struck me was that these religious leaders were shouting out different instructions than Jesus. He had just healed the guy, and told him, “Pick up your mat, and walk.” Imagine the freedom and relief that man must’ve experienced when he discovered he had the ability to follow those instructions! Now, notice the contrast between that freedom, that compassion, and the tone of the "religious experts”.
When someone’s claiming to have authority, but is giving out different advice than GOD himself, be suspicious.
If someone had just healed you of a crippling, 38-year long disease, who are you going to listen to? Your healer, or the people who are claiming to be experts in what God wants? Honestly, as a 21st century dweller who is far removed from the situation, it’s easy to say the former, but look at how many people listen to Christian leaders who are telling different tales than Jesus these days.
John, the author here, is constantly giving clues that Jesus is actually the one with the authority. John’s whole gospel is written in such a way to leave the reader no doubts as to who Jesus is—God in the flesh. Jesus says he came to fulfill the law, which is far different than being subject to it. Jesus is the king. Jesus is the incarnation of God: he perfectly manifests every intention of God, and he healed this man on the Sabbath—which to these indignant men meant he was breaking the rules. We can hear the echoes of love & authority in the man’s words: “The man who healed me…” That man is the ultimate authority.
And what do the religious leaders say to that? “Who said such a thing as that?” Now, at the prompting of the inner voice I’ve learned to follow, I decided to take a closer look at these characters. I took some notes about these holier-than-thou dudes and what their collective actions and words reveal about their attitudes. Here is what they seem to be communicating:
“Who do you think you are?!”
“How dare you!”
“You’re doing it wrong.” <—That seems to be one of their favorite ideas. Also a favorite of many modern day religious leaders.
“We know better than you.” <—That “you” could be anyone, from a person in their congregation, to Jesus—God himself.
“We’re the experts.”
“You are too bold. Too empowered. Too presumptuous.”
If you look closely for a hot second, you can see through their pious arrogance to a much more relatable human emotion: fear. And just like all of us humans, when they were afraid, they tried to control. Fear always leads to control, and both are always destructive forces.
The religious leaders feared losing their positions and their status, so they used scripture as a weapon to punish and control behavior. They feared the breakdown of the religious establishment, so they controlled with rules. The dignity of people was sacrificed on the altar to systems and laws. They feared losing their influence and becoming overshadowed by Jesus, so they tried to control with their outrage. They feared losing power, so they controlled the situation by trying to discredit Jesus, and eventually by crucifying him.
Jesus saw through it all, of course, and he was having none of it. The last portion of John 5 is a monologue where Jesus explains exactly who he is, where his authority comes from, and basically calls out all their bullcrap. And in the midst of his poignant truth-telling, he says this line:
“Your approval means nothing to me.”
When I read those words, I felt them like a punch in the gut. They exposed me.
You see, over the years and decades of my life, the approval of others has meant everything to me. I have tried to win others’ approval by shrinking, by conforming, by any means necessary. I’ve said ’no’ to myself, to my legitimate human needs, sacrificing my own dignity on the altar of anyone else’s system or set of rules. I’ve said ’no’ to my true calling, to the person I’m meant to be, and I’ve allowed myself to be changed by others who thought they knew better than me. I’ve said ‘yes’ to contorting into anything and everything anyone else wanted me to be. All because I thought that’s what love meant.
But I was wrong. Subconsciously, I felt like loving a person meant submitting to their every wish and earning their validation, when in fact, the opposite is true. We can’t truly love our neighbor if we’re still trying to win our neighbor’s approval. Jesus’ love for the Pharisees never once led him to acquiesce to their toxic control. He never played by their rules, all the while freely loving them.
“For God so loved the world [even those who were controlled by their own fear, and were in turn trying to control God] that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Jesus is the epitome of walking, breathing, pure, unconditional love. And Jesus never tried to be someone he wasn’t to make others more comfortable. Jesus didn’t look to others for his direction; he looked to the Father.
Love means fully embracing who you are, stepping wholeheartedly into the fullness of all you are meant to be, and from that place, fully embracing others in the same unconditional way. We can’t refuse the toxic temptation to change and control others, when we’re still trying to change and contort ourselves to fit someone else’s image.
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Interesting, I think, that he didn’t say “…be transformed by conforming to the desires of others.” Now, it’s worth saying that most average people have good intentions, and are not self-aware enough to realize when they’re being ruled by fear. Most people can’t recognize when they’re trying to control others. But Control is a force at work in and through many of us—me included. So, regardless of people’s good intentions, we have to be alert to the toxic effects of fear and approval seeking, and vehemently refuse them. We can truly love a person, and at the very same time, refuse to allow them to control us (even if we say nothing about it out loud). In fact, we must. If we’re to be all that we’re meant to be, and have healthy, thriving relationships, we must stare in the face of any control, and say with Jesus, “Your approval means nothing to me.”
I am not a chameleon. I am a human being. And so are you, friend. And so was Jesus. We can follow his example and throw the approval-seeking and self-camouflaging in the garbage where it belongs. Carry on, and be exactly who you are meant to be.