I had the privilege of living overseas a couple different times. I spent almost two and a half years living in south-central Germany. The German people are some of the nicest, community minded folks you will have the chance to meet. They walk their hamlets, enjoy the town gasthaus for a beer, and participate in their local polka band. Their pace of life is moderate at best and their attitude toward life is best described as carefree and joyous. They are just plain nice folks UNTIL…until they get behind the wheel of a car. There a transformation takes place and you had best get out of their way. An assertive to aggressive nature takes over, a side you don’t see passing them on the sidewalk. And you had better know the rules of the road in Germany and be able to abide by them otherwise only heaven can help you.
I guess now is a good time for confession – I am part German. When I get behind the wheel of a car a side of me comes out that is not necessarily my best side. My generalized assessment is that most people on the roads of my fair city need to go back to some sort of remedial driver’s school. They have forgotten how to drive correctly and within the rules of the road. Usually my opinion comes out of my mouth in the form of some grumbling about those around me along with some body movements and gestures (I do try to avoid the vulgar and inappropriate because I have a clergy sticker on my car!)
Almost all of us are predicated to moments of grumbling. We grumble about family members, co-workers, friends, neighbors, our spouse, the store clerk, wait staff at a restaurant, or even someone at church. We like sharing our discontent with the way people annoy us, displease us, don’t listen to us, or don’t do what we tell them to do even though our advice is often unsolicited. Grumbling is our way of distorting the picture in our favor. Here is the other thing about grumbling – we usually grumble to someone who is powerless to affect change. We grumble to a friend, colleague, family member or church friend who is not in a position to make any kind of change.
Grumbling simply sows seeds of discontent in the world around us and negativity in our own hearts and souls.
The storyteller who gave us Luke’s Gospel tells one concluding story about Jesus before he enters Jerusalem for the final time. Jesus was walking the streets of Jericho after healing a blind beggar. The crowds began to line the streets and evidently were thick enough that it was hard to see through them. A chief tax collector who was height challenged could not see through the crowd so he ran down the road ahead of Jesus path and climbed up into a sycamore tree so he could see this man called Jesus.
Zacchaeus was a despised man in Jericho – actually he was probably at the top of everyone’s list of most hated me in Jericho. The Romans sold a contract for the collection of taxes within a certain region. In order to acquire the contract you had to be a person of means – the Romans required that you pay the taxes in advance. Then you were given the right to collect the taxes for that region. The contract that Zacchaeus had was large enough that he could not collect the taxes all by himself – he hired others to operate as tax collectors who would pay him; thus the title “chief tax collector.” Unfortunately it was a system that was open to abuse and many of the tax collectors overcharged; they became wealthy at the expense of their own people. It is well within good speculation based upon human nature that the people who saw Zacchaeus that day were probably grumbling to one another about him. But the story takes a turn.
Jesus sees Zacchaeus in the tree and stops. He looks at the chief tax collector and tells him to come down out the tree because Jesus was inviting himself to dinner at the taxman’s home! The people’s response – now they started grumbling about Jesus saying “this man eats with sinners.”
The picture is one that is full – it encompasses the full nature of humans who will grumble about one another and grumble about God Almighty! Frankly friends we should learn that grumbling is very unbecoming and certainly not a model of the words and life of Jesus.
Dan Kimball in his book They Like Jesus But Not the Church tells a story about having to find a new hairstylist. He went into the new shop and actually sat down in the salon owner’s chair. Eventually the conversation got around to “what do you do?” and Kimball shared about the church community that he works with. The salon owner responded with the fact that she grew up in the Christian church but was now a practicing Buddhist. It stemmed from the desire for her daughter to grow up with a spiritual influence but because of the judgmental nature of Christians she did not want to expose her to that. She basically chose the Buddhist because they had a better reputation than the Christians.
We (leaders and members of the Christian movement) proclaim that “the church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.” Unfortunately our words and actions are not demonstrating much hope. So what is it going to take for us to let go of our judgmentalism and embrace all people with God’s love?
Jose’ Antonio Pagola in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew titled “The Way Opened Up by Jesus” wrote these words:
“The Church will change when we begin to look at people as Jesus did…more closely at their suffering than at their sin, when we see them with eyes of mercy than fear. Jesus did not authorize us to condemn people, but to cure them. He does not call us to judge the world, but to heal life.”
Maybe it is time for a healthy dose of the Holy Spirit that infuses our lives to the point that He pushes out our grumbling judgmentalism. Galatians 5:22-23 says “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Maybe if these things begin to appear in our lives and flow out to our neighbors then we might have a shot at becoming the true church of Jesus Christ that attracts people to Him rather than repels.
Blessings for the journey.