Monday, October 17, 2016

Playing the Gospel Gotcha Game

If you've watched the recent political debates, you may have noticed a pattern. Rather than dealing with the issues at hand, each of the candidates chose to find ways to turn the questions into an opportunity to bash the opponent. Oh? you're asking about how what I said was wrong? Think about this thing the other guy actually did. Oh? You want to know why I constantly lie? Let's take this opportunity to talk about the other guy's less than winning personality. The entire debate, and the entire campaign really, has boiled down to attacking the other person for their sins and downplaying one's own sins. There is little attempt to discuss policies. It's all about delegitimizing anything the other one says be destroying the opponent's character.

Jesus had a couple of opportunities to fall into the same trap in Mark chapter 2. In the first instance, the scribes of the Pharisees criticized Jesus through his disciples by asking why Jesus was eating with "Tax collectors and sinners" as if they were perfectly righteous and upright themselves. Jesus didn't respond as I would have been tempted to do by saying, "Well, you're really not as righteous as you think" and then proceeding to list all of their sins (like he was capable of doing). Instead, Jesus responded by addressing the core issue in the discussion: his purpose on earth. "Those who are well don't need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn't come to call the righteous but sinners" (Mark 2:17, HCSB). Rather than destroying his "opponents" as he was capable of doing, Jesus addressed the core issue that swept away the heart of their criticism, essentially saying, "Sinners are the ones who actually need me."

The second opportunity was just a few verses later. Jesus and his disciples were walking through a grain-field and his disciples plucked a few heads of grain to eat. The disciples of the Pharisees then accused Jesus' disciples of breaking the Sabbath (presumably by reaping). Now, I had always assumed the disciples did break the Sabbath until I did some research recently only to discover that plucking a head of grain as you are walking through the field in order to eat it right then was not considered "work"  which violated the Sabbath by many Jewish authorities. When the Pharisees accused Jesus' disciples of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus could have stopped and declared, "Technically, according to Rabbi so and so, what they did is ok so leave them alone." Jesus could have pointed out the incorrect portion of their argument and addressed the Pharisees' gotcha moment. But Jesus didn't. Instead, Jesus addressed the real issue: the nature of the Sabbath. Jesus quoted an example of someone breaking temple regulations in a time of need and summarized by declaring, "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27-28, HCSB).

In both cases, Jesus' critics tried to get Jesus bogged down in a "gotcha moment," where a technicality  or an incident that could be made to look bad might be used to derail Jesus. But instead of giving in and addressing these little things, Jesus chose to address the core issue which would sweep away these smaller arguments. Jesus chose to address the heart of the problem rather than get caught up in playing the game.

As we try to share our faith with people, or even just as people criticize us, we cannot allow ourselves to get distracted by a game of "gotcha." Rather than giving in to an initial gut reaction and addressing each little nit-picky point, we have to look for the bigger issue behind  their objections and criticisms. We can't allow ourselves to get distracted with the minor arguments that never really move the discussion forward. People's minds never get changed in the gotcha game; people only play it to reinforce their own beliefs. Instead, we must allow the Holy Spirit to point us to a person's larger concern that, maybe, they haven't even fully articulated to themselves yet.

Don't get distracted by the gotcha game. Look for the big picture and address the heart of the issue.

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