Relationships can be so challenging. In the last few days both of my sons have turned to me for support and guidance in the midst of some very difficult and emotional times. As a parent I have experienced very real pain with each of them as they try to process through these relationship challenges. I want nothing more than for them to be happy and healthy but I know real life isn’t so smooth. How do I respond to them in a Godly way as I experience the rush of powerful emotions that accompany a father’s heart? Where do I find the strength to stand beside them and hold them up when my knees are weak? How do I speak truth to them about relationships without wounding our relationship?
I have to be honest with you. As my sons, young men, confide in me I realize that my heart is being stretched and challenged to respond lovingly. Let’s look at this week’s Gospel and see how Jesus responds to those close to Him.
Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
There is a phrase that points to the core meaning of this passage. “And they took offense at him.” Note that these are not strangers that Jesus is interacting with. This is His hometown. These people have a relationship with Him. But their "offense" is based on who they think Jesus is.
Biblically, it is a sin to cause offense and it is a sin to be offended when none is given. The obvious question then follows; is Jesus guilty of causing offense to those He knows? Of course we can surmise that, being sinless, Jesus could not have been “at fault” in this situation. Therefore those that He is speaking to are guilty of the latter form of sinful offense. They are taking offense at Jesus because He is speaking the truth. In other words they are not rightly related to and with The Truth, Jesus. Jesus not only speaks the truth but Jesus is the Truth.
Jesus knows that their hearts are not right with Him. In fact He is “amazed at their lack of faith” in the Truth. When It comes to truth in relationships this is where we are challenged with this “offensive” principle. When “The Truth” is involved we must ensure that our hearts are rightly related to Him. Our focus must be on Christ. Our hearts must be right with Him if we are going to have the opportunity to share the truth as Jesus did. More and more, as our culture erodes, we are going to be challenged to stand up for the Truth. That is not to say that we can beat people over the head with our own current interpretation of the truth. This is not a license to assume Jesus’ role as we relate to those around us. We cannot condemn and judge! We are called to love, first and foremost. If our hearts are not rightly related to Him it is more likely that we will respond not in love but in condemnation and judgment, which destroys relationships. Relationship must come first! When we have loved others unconditionally, God’s Truth will speak through us. In essence we become a reflection of Him who is the Truth.
This week’s Gospel has really convicted me. I realize that my responses to others might be coming from a heart that is not fully turned towards Jesus. I realize that I have not cornered the market on Truth. In fact, it is a pretty sure sign that when I am convinced that I have the truth, I need to sit down with The Truth to find out what is in His heart. Then I need to ask His Spirit to show me what is truly in my heart. Instead of asking for the "right" answer I need to ask how I can love in these situations. That is why I want to love Joey and Josh and allow them to find the Truth on their own.
I believe a big part of our problem as Christians today is that in our humanness we are convinced that we know the Truth. Here are a few questions to ponder. Do I have more to learn? Can I continue to grow in my faith? Am I holding stubbornly to some previous understanding of who Jesus Christ is when He wants me to know Him more deeply? These questions look inward. They challenge us to focus on our heart.
God is infinitely greater than we can know. Who are we to think we know His heart in all things? I have very prayerfully considered challenging you with these questions and conclusions. I don't want to "offend" you. However, the truth is...we are called to The Truth. Our focus needs to be on our relationship with Jesus. And the Truth is Jesus died for all out of His infinite love. Therefore we are to love until it hurts! That is the opposite of speaking our truth that hurts others. Jesus brings the Truth. He can only do so as we build relationships with those He loves. If someone takes offense at our words that are grounded in our current set of beliefs we may be guilty of "being offensive". If they take offense at our self-sacrificing and loving behavior then we hopefully can rest assured we are not guilty of giving offense.
Back to Joey and Josh. As they struggle to mature as men I realize that I too am continuing to mature. My relationship with them has to grow along with them. How I parented them when they were young is no longer adequate for the men they are becoming. There it is! That's the key. We must continually BE-come more like Jesus Christ. Only then will we be a reflection of He who is, the Truth to the world. In so doing we might even "amaze" Him with our faith!