Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lest We Should Offend Them

Life of Christ 90

          In the last summer of His life Jesus is going out of His way, literally, to avoid Judea and Galilee. He keeps making side trips outside of these territories to avoid provoking a premature confrontation with Israel's political and religious leadership. In our story today (Matthew 17.24-27) we find that He and His Apostles have just returned to Capernaum after a weeklong trip north of Galilee into the mountains.
         As they enter Capernaum, the Temple taxmen approach Peter and ask him if Jesus pays the annual tribute due to the Temple. This was used to maintain the priesthood, support the flocks that provided the sacrifices, etc. and was required of all Jews. Peter, as was his custom, gives an answer without thinking it through, and his answer was, 'Yes' (Matthew 17.25). Later, in private, Jesus remonstrates with Peter, and explains to him that since He is Who He is He doesn't owe any tax. After all, a tax that was taken to support the worship of God didn't need to be paid by that God Himself, did it? Yet even though Jesus was well within His rights to refuse to pay it He chose to anyway, sending Peter out to catch a fish with a coin in its mouth. He did, and the tax was paid.
          I find several lessons in this story. I see that Jesus and His Apostles were basically broke, financially. It is curious how that the prosperity gospel types never bring that up. I also see that God always provides for the genuine needs of His own. But the largest lesson I see here, and the one that I think is the point of the whole story, is that Jesus gave up His rights in order not to cause offense. 'Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them' (Matthew 17.27).
          We live in an age in which we hear a lot of chatter about rights. Some of these claimed rights are valid, and some are not. Regardless, Jesus chose giving in over asserting His rights, and He did it explicitly in order not to offend someone. It wasn't that Jesus was afraid of offending people, for He was willing to do so, if it was an important issue (Matthew 13.57). However, unless it was a matter of vital truth Jesus chose to act as inoffensively as possible.
          This is the clear scriptural position. 'It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby they brother stumbleth, or is offended' (Romans 14.21). 'Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth' (I Corinthians 8.13). 'Give none offence' (I Corinthians 10.32). 'That ye may be sincere and without offence' (Philippians 1.10).
          I can hear it already, the response forming on your lips.
          'Well, if they're offended, that's their problem. After all, great peace have they which love thy law and nothing shall offend them.'
          Yes, that is true. They shouldn't be offended, and it is their problem. But in asserting this you've clearly missed the point. We are to seek to be inoffensive, not because they are close to the Lord and in love with Him, but because they aren't. We are to seek to be inoffensive precisely because of the fact that if we do offend it will be their problem. And they don't know how to handle problems very well. Yes, if they were stronger they wouldn't be offended. So, since they are weak, don't blame them for being offended, rather don't offend them. I know you have rights, but weak people take offense easily. We ought to try not to give them the opportunity. If it is an issue of right and wrong, of truth and error, of a clear scriptural mandate, then we ought to have a backbone of steel and not give an inch. But if it's a matter of preference or rights, and they will be offended, then we ought to seek to structure things in such a way so as to be as inoffensive as possible.
          There is a segment of Christianity that embraces persecution as evidence that they are holy. The practical result is that they go about seeking to be attacked, or behaving in such a way so as to provoke virulent opposition. Then, when that opposition comes, they wrap themselves in their sanctimonious spirituality and feel superior because someone is mad at them. The simple truth is that people are often not mad at us because of the truth but rather because we did something that frightened or provoked them.
          Consider Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, for instance. They are notorious for traveling all around the country to picket the funerals of soldiers killed in the line of duty, asserting that each death is a direct evidence of God's judgment on America because of her position supporting homosexuality. They are correct that homosexuality is wrong, and that God will judge America in some way at some time as a result. However, they are incorrect in saying that each individual death is attributable to this, and further, they are even more incorrect in seeking to go about their stand in as purposely an offensive way as possible. There may come a day when we, as God's people, will have to be willing to endure persecution because of our beliefs about homosexuality, but we don't need to provoke it by having a Hunt-a-Homo Sunday during the Spring Program.

          Three thousand years ago Solomon wisely said, 'A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle' (Proverbs 18.19). If I want to bring people to see my side on an issue I will come nearer and faster getting it done if I don't have to first besiege the castle I unknowingly built when I offended them. There are rights, and then there is right. And right is more important than rights. If I must offend in order to be right, then so be it. If the truth offends, then so be it. But if it is just a matter of my rights then let me learn to give in, graciously, lest I should offend them.

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