In Mark 8, Jesus is talking with the pharisees or rather they are arguing with him and putting him to the test. They are looking for a sign from heaven to prove his authority in what he is declaring as truth. In response Jesus breathes a deep sigh and leaves without giving them any specific sign that they are looking for. What a sad verse. I wonder sometimes, if we are causing Jesus to have a deep sigh too!
I was troubled by the blog of a friend who recently wrote on the topic of ‘friendly fire.’ Not troubled by my friend but the response of Christians to him which was actually anything but friendly! We are living in days where there is great polarisation of opinions that is dividing families, neighbourhoods and nations. Rather than have meaningful dialogue, many have moved to slander, insults, put downs and judgement of one another. It seems that our message has moved from the kingdom within us, to the political kingdom outside of us.
Jesus didn’t come as a messiah to free the Israelites from occupation by the Romans but as a foot washing servant king. As I look at history, since the early church, the body of Christ has grown the most when under persecution, when it was reaching out to the poor, the needy and the marginalised of society – walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
As I reflect back on my becoming a new father, I quickly learned that getting mad at my kids getting mad, didn’t really help the situation. Someone had to be the big person and address issues in a calm manner. Allowing emotions to get the better of us, always creates a messy environment. So, when it comes to issues of theology, social injustice and politics, why do we suddenly think we are free to slander, insult, put down and judge others? Doesn’t that go entirely against all the teachings of Jesus?
We all grow up within a context of our family, our church (if we attended), our schooling, workplace and national government. These help to develop a mindset that makes it difficult for people outside those contexts to understand. In a small way I experienced that, in marrying a Canadian and moving to Canada as a 23-year-old. I was thrust into a different culture with cultural norms I wasn’t used to. But this is a minor difference compared to 15 years ago moving to Spain.
We grow up accepting certain values, structures and ways of life without question. We are enculturated into ways of seeing, believing and living. But there is another way of viewing life and until we step out of our world, we are blind to it. Its only as we look into our culture with objectivity that we see our flaws. I totally understand this as a Brit living in Spain. I see the arrogance and independence of my nationality all too easily. I also lived in Scotland for 26 years where my Canadian wife was more accepted that I was. I lost count of the number of times I was introduced with a ‘joke’ – ‘we will forgive you for being English.’ At times it certainly didn’t feel like it.
So how are we responding with this current reality of division and strife? Jesus gave us two commandments that can become two questions for us to test our responses. Living for Jesus boils down to loving God and loving one another. So, in summing up my attitudes, behaviour and communication, do they translate to loving God and loving one another?
Another test we can use is by asking a further question to ourselves: ‘Is my heart in peace?’ There is a little verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 that says, ‘never restrain or put out the fire of the holy spirit.’ Whenever we have a wrong attitude, behaviour or communication, we can grieve the holy spirit within us and we lose our peace. We can quickly restore it as we let go our attitudes, ask forgiveness and perhaps step out in some form of restitution. As long as we leave those attitudes, behaviours and communications unresolved, we are putting out the fire of the holy spirit and we aren’t in a place of peace. Sadly, the longer we live this way, we forget what living in peace feels like and become unaware that Jesus is sighing!
Over these months, I have found my heart becoming agitated, frustrated and at times angry and have had to stop reading news, blogs and responses for a season. Why do I feel this way? Because I am not in control! I can’t control what others think and say and so I feel helpless. I always have a choice of bringing those feelings to the Lord and letting them go and receiving back his peace or going on a rant and rave and demanding change and calling the people involved all kind of names! This is 2-year-old behaviour. I look back and think – what a waste of my good energy!
Conspiracy theories abound but the people believing them don’t think they are theories. They belief they are true! So, if I simply write them off, or argue with them and put them down, it doesn’t help. It just makes it adversarial, and it turns into a war of lobbing bombs on each other in the hope we will kill off their ideas – of course in reality it solidifies those beliefs even more.
In Jean Paul Lederach’s book, A Journey to Reconciliation, he talks about four different approaches to what is needed for reconciliation. Psalm 85:10 says, ‘Truth and mercy meet together; peace and justice kiss each other.’ I don’t have the space here to go into a teaching on this topic, but we tend to fall into two groups of people – the ‘truth and justice’ group and the ‘mercy and peace’ group. We need all four aspects to come to real reconciliation. When we totally disagree with others, we tend to move in truth and justice. Then when two truth and justice groups are fighting, we enter fierce conflict and encounter ongoing strife. Jesus came sharing the new truth of the kingdom and working for the injustice to the poor and needy. He also came with incredible mercy and peace, a love of everyone – even those who killed him.
So, the question is ‘Where has all our love gone?’ Is our behaviour in line with how Jesus would want us to behave? Even if people are wrong, does it give us the right to try to demolish them with words and actions?
Let our hearts be troubled over injustice, the treatment of asylum seekers, refugees fleeing from persecution, those in poverty and sick without hospital care, those unjustly imprisoned, marginalised and prejudiced against. There’s so many things to fight for but we end up fighting one another. Jesus said, ‘My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives…’. Let’s receive that peace and seek to bring a message of hope as followers of Jesus. They will know we are Christians by our love for one another – right?
Until next month