Friday, April 20, 2007

Turn me into a chump. No, never mind, I'll do it myself

Something odd happens to people who oppose Jesus -- they tend to look faintly ridiculous after a while. Not that they're trying to look foolish; they just turn out that way somehow. Watch what happens to these guys:
1One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 2"Tell us by what authority you are doing these things," they said. "Who gave you this authority?"

3He replied, "I will also ask you a question. Tell me, 4John's baptism--was it from heaven, or from men?"

5They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Why didn't you believe him?' 6But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet." 7So they answered, "We don't know where it was from."

8Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."
Luke 20:1-8
What a bunch of clowns! They come off acting like some kind of authorities. But they're blind and cowardly. These guys are supposed to be spiritual leaders, but they're not even willing to say what they believe.

The style of rhetoric and argumentation sure was different in first century Israel than it would be in 21st century America. Today, the typical thing would be to point out their beliefs as shown by their actions. Maybe you could even get the people to stone them: "You didn't believe John, so you must think his baptism came from men!" or something like this. Maybe the people really would have stoned them.

But that wouldn't have served his purpose. After all, these chumps had to be around so they could later persuade the Romans to kill him.

Jesus does, however, make things very uncomfortable for these priests, teachers of the law, and elders; he tells the people a parable describing the future of these self-styled "spiritual leaders." In other words, they dig a hole for themselves and Jesus helps them do it.

As I reflect on this passage, a couple of things stand out to me.

First, when someone points out to me that I've messed up -- whether by making me look ridiculous or by some other means -- I want to be willing to repent. Because it's better to know whether I'm right (and maybe find out I'm wrong) than to go on thinking I'm right (and actually being wrong). If I'm making myself a chump by acting cowardly and by denying the truth, in other words, let me find out so I can stop!

Second, when confronting someone who's making a chump of himself, my first reaction is sometimes to force him to 'fess up to his folly -- to lead him around to the truth, and get frustrated when he refused to follow. I get caught up in the moment, in other words; I don't always keep the mission in view.

This came up in a negotiation class. Sometimes you catch your interlocutor in a blatant lie. This kind of thing tends to drive me up the wall, but that doesn't accomplish my goal in the negotiation. Instead it may reward the liar. My personal weakness, in other words, may compromise the objective.

In either scenario, the thing I need to do is this: keep the goal in mind. To find out whether I'm right and make corrections is better than to keep going in the wrong direction because it feels better right now. And to accomplish the mission (as Jesus said, "I have glorified your name on the earth, by finishing the work you gave me to do.") is better than venting my spleen or allowing myself to get side-tracked by my passions. ("A heart at peace gives life to the body, but passion rots the bones," as the Proverbs say.)

May God help me to keep my purpose -- his purpose for my life -- in view, that I may live for him and not just for my feelings.

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