Sooner or later it has to happen. Somebody you’re trying to serve will manage to annoy you. Even offend you. In that moment, you won’t feel much like washing their feet. Yes, I’ve had that happen a time or two…or two hundred. If you’re serious about any form of ministry, you learn to emotionally and spiritually prep yourself to hear barbed remarks about the Bible and God.
My small group had a gospel outreach event a few weeks ago. As usual before an activity, I mentally readied myself for the slights I figured might be made against the faith.
What eventually came was a kidney punch I hadn’t anticipated. A guest managed to casually insult me. I’m used to people learning about me with neutral interest at most, and then bludgeoning what I believe about Jesus. But we hadn’t gotten to the belief part and already I’d been backhanded. Maybe you’ve been in these shoes.
“Where did you go to school?”
“What part of the city are you from?”
“Where do you work?”
“I detect an accent…you’re not from around here, are you?”
Then there are politics, social issues, and sports rivalries. Regardless, when asked about any of them, you give an answer and the inquirer responds incredulously, with pity perhaps, or outrage or disgust. It’s a moment of humiliation where you feel like one of the Three Stooges. That’s where I had landed.
We all know how this ought to work. In such moments I’m supposed to be a big boy, a man of God willing to accept the cross of Christ. People die for their faith in other countries and so I ought to be thankful I’ve been assigned no worse than this juvenile sort of aggravation. Still, I couldn’t help it. My emotional temperature chilled considerably—I’m talking about fish wrapped in newspaper kind of cold. But I managed to remain cordial. I figure even dead flounders ought to have manners.
From that moment on, school was in session. Jesus had more to teach me than how to conduct a neighborhood cookout.
The kind of thing I was feeling—personal rejection, anger, and counter-rejection—certainly isn’t an unknown quantity in the New Testament. Jesus and the disciples entered a Samaritan village where they were treated with great prejudice once it was discovered they were Jewish and headed to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-56). The problem didn’t erupt over anything profound. It was racial. It’s hard to get more personal than that.
I don’t know if some of the Samaritans launched racial slurs at them. They might have. If so, you can imagine what these ancient anti-Semitic taunts must have sounded like without the filters of today’s political correctness.
What did Jesus do?—this is awesome—He kept moving along, so he could go down to Jerusalem and die for their sins on the cross. But the disciples, short-sighted and thin-skinned as they were, had had enough of the personal affronts. They asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven on the offenders (Lk. 9:54). He turned and rebuked them, saying, “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Lk. 9:56).
Wow. Here’s a discipleship lesson for us—evangelism does not involve nuking folks. And although I hadn’t wanted to bring down fire on the person who offended me, I certainly would have felt justified in bringing down a few hot remarks at least.
That led to a brief, but hidden “Jesus time out.”
Jesus: Why are you here?
Me: Well, I’m here for servant evangelism. That’s the reason for the free hot dogs and popsicles.
Jesus: True. But even more, you’re here to pass grace on to others. Remember? The grace you received the day you were saved. The grace you continue to enjoy every day, when I don’t call you out on every sinful thing you think. Or every single thing you do that’s selfishly motivated. It’s the grace that keeps me from hating you, destroying you, or regretting I ever saved you. This is the grace that doesn’t keep a running tab of the stuff you ask forgiveness for this week that you were guilty of last week. This is the grace that sees you even now in glory and not in your pathetic bad mood and faithless thoughts. That’s the grace you’re passing on to somebody else. Not just hot dogs.
When the event was over, I smiled, shook the hand of that offensive guest, and said as warmly as I could, “It was so nice to meet you.”