This is probably the one action of some of Christians that leaves the worst possible and impression with others – to be scolded by a judgmental religious person.
There is a church legend (I say legend because I am sure this really never has happened); it goes something like this. A guest came to church one Sunday and sat down in an empty pew. An usher came up to the guest and politely said “Oh, you might want to move because you are sitting in Mrs. Member’s spot.” The other telling of this legend is that a guest came to worship and sat down in an empty pew. Mr. Member, a founder of the church came in and saw the guest sitting in his spot so he stood in the isle staring at the guest with arms folded and a look of disgust on his face. The guest quickly got the hint and moved.
How often do we tell people that they aren’t welcome simply because they do not play by our rules (which we don’t publish) or act the way they are supposed to in “our” house of worship? What they receive from us isn’t a handshake of Christian fellowship but a scolding (verbal and non-verbal) for violating our rules and order.
Dave Kinnamon in his book unChristian tells a story about a young mother of two who attended a women’s Bible study at the church. She knew some of the women and she was trying to make sense of her faith in light of the Christian tradition – she was seeking. After the lesson they broke up for group discussion and the topic was around issues of sexuality. She told the group about a friend of her’s who was 20 years old, unexpectedly pregnant and on her own since her boyfriend wanted nothing to do with her now that she was pregnant. Her friend was depressed and scared so she was contemplating an abortion. She told the group that she could empathize with her friend’s circumstances. In the interview she told Kinnamon that the conversation took an odd turn at that moment. Instead of having a dialog the women began to try to fix her attitude regarding reproductive choices. They started talking at her instead of talking with her. It left her feeling discouraged and uneasy; scolded by the group. Because of their response the conversation came to an uneasy conclusion. She went on to tell Kinnamon that she never disclosed to the women that when she was a young, single woman she was in the exact same circumstances and she had an abortion – a choice she would never encourage another woman to pursue even though she did. Her disclosure about her friend was also a disclosure about herself and the desire for empathy from a group of women who talk about loving as Jesus loves – but who didn’t show it very well on that day.
There are plenty of bad examples around of Christians who spew words of anger, hate, defamation – who scold children of God simply because they do not follow all of our legalisms and self-interpreted laws.
In the Gospel According to Luke the author tells of two moments when the followers of Jesus took it upon themselves to scold the seekers. One of them was when the parents where bringing their children to Jesus for him to bless them. The disciple’s thought that Jesus didn’t have time for such an activity. One of the commentators on this passage noted that the word for children actually points to infants. It was babies that the people brought to Jesus. Infant mortality was 30% in Jesus day. Another 30% by the age of 6 and almost 60% up to age 16. The people heard that the touch of Jesus healed and blessed; if Jesus touched their infant maybe they would have a better chance of reaching adulthood.
I am not sure about you but I like the sound of little kids in the sanctuary – as one friend put it, “it is the sounds of life!” We could use a little more life in many of our sanctuaries!
The second story is Jesus travelling through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. It was the last time he would visit this city; he only had a few more miles to go to his final destination. Along the road sat a blind beggar (not uncommon) but this man yelled out at Jesus – “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowd in between him and Jesus tried to scold him into silence but the man shouted even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Son of David was a loaded term – it meant rightful heir to the throne of King David. The followers of Jesus had hopes that he would be their physical deliverer – the warrior king who would lead the revolt that would topple Roman oppression but things hadn’t gotten to that point yet – there was still time, still hope. Better to silence him so that he doesn’t draw unwanted attention to Jesus. What they failed to realize is that the blind beggar was the very person Jesus came to minister to – in Luke’s gospel he would be the last person Jesus heals.
I guess we might have our image of Jesus that we want to protect; it usually comes across more in the form of our building, our practices, our traditions, and our values. When someone challenges our image of discipleship, we have a tendency to scold them into silence. What we fail to realize is that people are still seeking the healing touch of Jesus Christ – maybe we simply need to get out-of-the-way instead of scolding them into our way.
I am curious about the moment that we all stand before Jesus at what the New Testament calls the “white throne of judgment.” I wonder how many of us will be lovingly scolded by Jesus because we missed the lesson; because we choose our agenda, traditions, or values over his model of hospitality. May God grant us the ability to see people not as challenges to our status quo but as vehicles of God’s transformation that still needs to happen even in many of us. And may God grant that we be open to people who don’t know our rules, don’t act exactly like we do or who don’t believe all that we believe – it could be a chance for a grace-filled conversation.
Blessings for the journey.