Are We Popular?
Was Jesus popular?
by Janice Ross
Suitable for Key Stage 3
To consider what true, lasting popularity might look like.
Preparation and materials
- You will need to prearrange for 11 narrators to perform the short scene in the ‘Assembly’, Steps 7 and 8.
- In the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly, you will need the means to display the quotation by the Earl of Mansfield: ‘True popularity is not the popularity which is followed after, but the popularity which follows after.’
- Optional: you may wish to read the parable of the lost son, which is found in Luke 15.11-32. It is available at: https://tinyurl.com/l5kl8kf
- Students at a high school were asked in a survey to complete the following statement: ‘People who are popular at school are . . .’
Ask the students how they would complete the sentence.
Pause to allow time for thought.
- Explain that you are going to read out a range of the top answers that were given in the survey. Ask the students to consider whether any of the answers match the ones that they had thought of.
People who are popular at school are:
- generous, open-minded and have lots of free time for parties
- high achievers
- involved in extra-curricular activities, especially sport
- the ones who have the most friends and the most money
- beautiful, from the way they wear their hair to their clothes, even to how they laugh
- those who can make others laugh the most
- their own people, self-confident
- We might be able to identify from our answers that popularity sometimes depends on status and achievements, sometimes on personality and sometimes on a mixture of both. However, most of us would probably agree that we like to be popular.
- Make the point that popularity can change from day to day. A brilliant football player can quickly become forgotten when new talent becomes more prominent. Likewise, a misunderstanding between friends could mean that, for a while, people turn against us.
- There is a well-known story in the Bible called the parable of the lost son that reminds us of this. When wealth dwindles away and there is no money left for partying, our popularity can quickly disappear.
Optional: you may wish to read the parable of the lost son, which is found in Luke 15.11-32.
- Ask the students whether they think that Jesus was popular.
You may wish to take answers.
- Point out that on the day we call Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem. Crowds lined the streets to welcome him, waving palm branches and throwing their coats down before him.
Ask the prearranged narrators to come to the front and read the following lines.
Narrator 1: I used to be blind, but Jesus healed me.
Narrator 2: I had leprosy. People thought that I was unclean and might give them the disease, so I had to live separately from everyone. Jesus touched me and I was healed.
Narrator 3: I wanted Jesus to bless my children and, even though he was exhausted, he took my little ones in his arms and said a prayer.
Narrator 4: I was friendless because I was a tax collector, and not a very honest one at that. Jesus came to my house for a cup of tea. He changed my life!
Narrator 5: I was a violent man. Jesus came all the way over the lake to set me free.
- So, it seems that Jesus was pretty popular! However, a few days later, people seemed to have changed their minds.
Narrator 6: Who does he think he is? Isn’t he just a carpenter’s son from Nazareth?
Narrator 7: Some Messiah he is. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, for goodness’ sake!
Narrator 8: He called me - ME: a learned Pharisee, an important religious leader - he called ME a hypocrite and a whitewashed pillar.
Narrator 9: He eats with prostitutes and sinners.
Narrator 10: He expects disciples to leave their jobs and follow him.
Narrator 11: He talks about love, but I feel uncomfortable in his presence. His eyes seem to bore right through me.
- Explain that Jesus did not strive to be popular. In fact, he was not interested in becoming popular. He tried to do what was right: to care for others and love people, even those who were unpopular and marginalized.
Jesus said that he wanted to please his father in heaven. Sometimes, Jesus walked away from the crowds who had flocked to hear him to spend time alone with his father, God. For many, Jesus became popular through his humility, servanthood and care of the poor and weak, and the wisdom of his words. At the same time, these actions earned him many enemies.
Time for reflection
Explain that someone who had views about the meaning of popularity was the Earl of Mansfield, a British barrister, politician and judge who was noted for his reform of English law. He became the most powerful British law expert of the eighteenth century and said this: ‘True popularity is not the popularity which is followed after, but the popularity which follows after.’
Show the quotation by the Earl of Mansfield.
Jesus would seem to be an example of someone with true popularity: he did not strive to be popular, but it would be true to say that popularity followed after him. Two thousand years after his death, Jesus has millions of followers all over the world. In some countries, Christians are persecuted for their belief in him. Some are put in prison; some are taken from their families and even killed. However, it seems that even the threat of persecution does not keep people from responding to Jesus’ message.
Ask the students, ‘Would you agree that this is true popularity?’
Many people look on popularity as a goal worth striving for.
Many others are struggling with fading popularity.
Thank you for the example of Jesus, whose aim was to please only you.
As we try to live his way and follow him, give us a solid sense of our worth in your eyes.
Thank you that you know us and love us.
Please be with anyone in the world today who is suffering for a religious belief.
Please be close to them and keep them safe.
‘Popular’ from the musical Wicked, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_uM8bUnlGQ (3.50 minutes long)