Thursday, November 14, 2013

How Do You Live with People Who Offend You?

What do you do when you have to be around someone you really don’t like.  I mean, really don’t like?

It’s natural to want to hang around with people we like, and few of us would choose hang around with someone we didn’t like, much less groups of people we don’t like.  Sometimes, however, it’s unavoidable.

Sometimes they are family.  Sometimes they are co-workers.  Sometimes they are your boss.  Sometimes they are classmates or teammates.

And sometimes they go to your church.  It would be nice if we liked everyone that we worshiped with, served with, and went to Bible study with, but that doesn’t happen very often.  In a large church you can avoid people you don’t like, but really only if you just attend worship.  If you go to a Bible study, serve in a ministry, become a part of leadership—anything that involves interacting with a smaller group of people—you are likely to encounter someone with whom you don’t jibe.

So what do you do?  If it gets bad enough, you can stop attending family functions, transfer to another department, get a new job, change teams, move to another Bible study or even change churches.  In the latter case, people do it all the time, because, unlike families, jobs, and schools, you really do get to choose your church, and more and more people are taking advantage of that.

But is that good?  Is that actually harmful to a person’s spiritual development to only hang around with people they like and who like them?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because in the last few weeks circumstances have forced me to be with and work with people who, to be quite frank, hold views that I find offensive.  So it’s not even a matter of liking them.  On an interpersonal level I actually do like some of them, but I know that they hold views that I consider to be racist, in effect if not in intent.  Their views on women border on misogynistic, they are callous toward the poor, and they use Scripture in a way that supports all of these things, and that offends me even more.  It’s not that they are bad, evil people.  Not a one of them is.  But, still, while I'm a very tolerant person, I do have limits.

And there is a part of me that wants to break relationship with them as a matter of principle.  But I don’t, and the reason is that Jesus called both Matthew and Simon to be his disciples.

See, Matthew was a tax collector (Matthew 10:3), and Simon was a Zealot (Luke 6:15).  Matthew was a collaborator with Rome who profited from the exploitation of his fellow Jews by the Romans; Simon was part of a violent revolutionary group who sometimes engaged in acts of terrorism against Romans soldiers occupying Israel.  Matthew would have viewed Simon and the rest of the Zealots as extremists who would one day lead to the destruction of Israel by the Romans—and events would prove that he would be right.  And Simon would have viewed Matthew as a traitor to God and country who in many ways was worse than the Roman occupiers—and he would have been right.

Yet Jesus called them both to be part of his inner circle of disciples.  They ate, slept, worshiped and traveled together and somehow managed not to kill each other.  In fact, they were still together at Pentecost,  praying with one another in the upper room (Acts 1:13).

Jesus knew what he was doing when he called those two and forced them to live together.  He knew that it would be all right as long as he remained the center of the group.  He knew that the way we learn to be loving, grace-giving, forgiving, patient people is not by avoiding people we don’t like or who offend us at even the deepest level but by being together.  And he wanted the 12 to model what life in the Kingdom looks like, when the dividing walls of hostility are torn down and the differences between us don’t matter as much as having Christ among us.

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