As a teenager, one of my favorite film series was the Back to the Future series. In fact, when I was sick and I would stay home from school, I would lay down on the couch and watch all three movies back to back. The first two movies are a lot of time-traveling fun, but they set up the third movie where Marty McFly, the main character, learns an important lesson about how to respond or, more accurately, how not to respond when people call him a coward. See, Marty's biggest flaw was that he couldn't stand for anyone to call him a coward and he felt compelled to demonstrate his lack of cowardice anytime anyone suggested he was. Only when that tendency landed him in a life-and-death situation did he realize that trying to disprove every disparaging statement made about him was not the brightest idea in the world.
I was reminded of Marty's lesson recently when reading the crucifixion scene in Mark. As Jesus hung on the cross, his political enemies (and those who just joined in the "fun" of a public execution) mocked and taunted Jesus, demanding that he prove his status as Messiah by coming down from the cross as a sign. They scoffed, "He saved others but he can't save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel come down from the cross that we may see and believe" (Mark 15:31-32, NIV). If Marty McFly had been on the cross, we would all have been in a lot of trouble because he would have had to prove himself to his mockers by coming down from the cross. But coming off the cross would have eliminated the primary task Jesus fulfilled as the messiah, enduring the crucifixion so that he could rise from the dead. Fortunately, Jesus was sure enough of himself that he endured their taunts, knowing that he did not have to prove himself to anyone.
How many times do we feel the need to prove ourselves to someone? How often do we do things we know are unwise because we want to silence those who mock us? How often do we take a position we don't really believe because we don't want people to see us as stupid or ignorant? As believers in Christ Jesus, we cannot allow our actions to be dictated by the possibility of someone looking down on us. We cannot silence the words God has given us to speak or hold back acts of love and service because people might think we look stupid. We have to remember that, like with those people who wanted Jesus to come off the cross, proving ourselves is not worth the cost.
More than that, when we allow ourselves to be goaded into an action we would not take on our own simply because of what those people might think of us, we give those people, rather than God, control of our lives. Our desire to look good (or to not look bad) gives those people who would mock and ridicule us power over us and turns us into idolaters who worship at the altar of other people's opinions rather than faithful followers of Christ.
People thinking badly of us is not the end of the world, if they think badly of us for doing the right thing. We should respond to taunts, insults and mocking in the same spirit as Jesus: "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:23, NIV). Sometimes, not responding is the very best thing we can do.