Thursday, March 22, 2018

Pharisees Shoot the Messenger

We don't always like the messages that we get from people. When a doctor tells us that we need to change our diet or risk serious health problems, or we get a progress report from school that warns us we are on the verge of failing a class, there are traditionally three ways of responding. 1) We can heed the warning and act on the message, 2) we can choose to ignore the message or 3) we can get angry with the person who delivered the message. I don't know how many students I have heard say something like, "My teacher is just mean, she won't even give me a lousy five points on my report card." Anticipating the third reaction, a pastor I used to serve with would deliver the disclaimer, "If I'm stepping on your toes, say, 'ouch,' or get out of the way."

In Mark 12 (and in various other places throughout the Gospels), Jesus delivered a message that was unpopular with the religious establishment. Jesus told a parable that essentially warned the Pharisees and chief priests that their lack of response to God's messengers throughout the years would lead to God replacing them with people who would obey God's call. How did the chief priests and Pharisees respond? Did they decide that they had better start obeying God's call? Did they commit themselves to leaving behind their apathy in the hopes of retaining their position? Mark 12:12 records their response: "Because they knew He had said this parable against them, they were looking for a way to arrest Him, but they were afraid of the crowd" (HCSB).

Rather than acting on the message Jesus delivered, the religious establishment decided to "shoot the messenger." They could easily have listened to what Jesus had to say and acted on it. They could have said, "Whoa, we're in trouble here and we had better change our ways." They could have said, "He's right. We've been acting sinfully. We had better beg God for forgiveness." Instead, they chose to eliminate the one delivering the message by looking for ways to arrest him.

How often do we respond in the same way? A friend warns us about a dangerous behavior and we get angry, unable to believe how judgmental our friend is. A parent or mentor warns us that we are headed down the wrong path and we silently berate them, exclaiming, "You just don't get it. You don't know what I am going through." A doctor gives us bad news and we suddenly decide that we don't like that doctor anymore and we need a second opinion.  A preacher delivers a message about sin, warning us that certain activities are harmful, and we get angry with the preacher for "stepping on our toes" and decide not to come back or, worse, to stay and battle the preacher's "self-righteousness" behind the scenes.

"Shooting the messenger" is a time-honored human method of reacting to news we don't like in a way that lets us off the hook for the contents of the message. But, at the end of the day, we have still heard the message and we are still responsible for what we do with it. If you have recently gotten a message you don't like, don't get angry with the messenger, evaluate the message and act accordingly.

When someone steps on your toes, you can get mad, you can say, "ouch," or you can fix the situation by moving your feet. How will you choose to respond?

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