"Handling Rejection without Resentment"
March 4, 2007 Luke 13:31-35
Pastors Get Stoned: Some Welcome!
Early this year, my fellow local EMC pastor Dave Wood was sharing with us other clergy how excited he was to be travelling to Israel for a tour. He had been assured the trip would be quite safe, with good security. But the first day they were there, the bus was attacked by angry Palestinian and Israeli Arabs who were upset about some construction work going on near their holy site. The youths threw stones at their vehicle; there was damage to the bus but thankfully nobody was hurt. Still, it was surprising, disturbing. Now when Pastor Dave reads Luke 13:34 it will have a whole new meaning: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you..."
Why would they attack tourists? You'd think they'd appreciate having the extra revenue coming into the country. But there must be deep animosity and hatred, resentment on the part of the Arabs to be so violent. One of the pastors did stay in an Arab home and confirmed they do have another version of history than we sometimes hear in the media.
The group observed a stark contrast between the Jewish and Arab quarters: the latter were considerably more run down, with garbage more prevalent. As Canadians it's hard for us to relate to the tensions there. But Dave agrees the Palestinian problem has some parallels to the Native situation here in Canada. Perhaps that prompts a little different reaction in you. Roadblocks and tensions at Oka and Ipperwash and Caledonia are still fresh in our memory. Some people resent the special tax status and other privileges accorded to native people resulting from treaties made by our forebears.
But you don't have to go that far away, or look at racial differences, to find situations of conflict, rejection, and resentment in our lives. It's easy for us to be fearful or resentful of those who are unlike us, or who have privilege we don't have, or who have "dissed" us, putting us down for some reason. Words can be just as hurtful, perhaps more permanently so, than 'sticks and stones'. Growing up in school, or in the busy adult world where people have limited time and guard their time and interests closely, it's easy to have been rejected (if not told to 'get lost') multiple times. That hurts. How should we respond? What do we do when we're 'dissed'?
In Luke 13, Jesus shows us several things, including: God's great love for people; the danger of rejecting Him; and, how to find security when were attacked by others, so that we don't react with resentment or retaliation.
Henny Penny, Chicklee, and Other Feathered Friends
For 5 years before coming to Blyth, we lived in Laird Township, half an hour east of Sault Ste Marie. We were blessed there with 10 acres of bush for firewood, and ample space for a garden. Our kids were young so we thought it might be a good opportunity to experiment with poultry and home-grown eggs. We placed an order for about a dozen chicks, and built a hen-house with adjacent fenced-in area [photos]. Allison & Meredith were most enthusiastic and were the principal poultry-keepers. They dutifully helped looked after the birds, turning over stones to find grubs for them even. The hens became quite the pets: each one was named, for example - Henny Penny, Henly, Chicklee, and Dodo; the rooster was Hercules. The birds got so tame they would climb up the girls' arms and onto their shoulders. As the months went on, they formed quite an attachment. (We would have been in trouble had we ever decided to raise 'meat' birds!)
The Bible is clear in teaching that God is very attached to us humans. Psalm 103, for instance, tells us that God crowns us with love and compassion; His love is abounding; as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love toward those who fear Him; and, in terms of time, the Lord's love is with those who fear Him "from everlasting to everlasting".
Jesus was constantly in touch with the Father and aware of God's vast love and protection. So when He encountered human opposition, He wasn't knocked off-balance by it, but could put it within the framework of God's love for a wayward humanity. He uses a word-picture in v34 that captures something of how dear and intimate God would have His interaction with us be. Hear the depth of feeling in His voice: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings..." That reminds me how carefully we nurtured the young chicks in Laird; how the girls went to great lengths to supplement their diet, and gave much attention to them. How they played with them as pets, and the birds felt free to hope up on their shoulders. That captures something of how precious we are to God, how much He longs for an open, deep, intimate relationship with us as His creatures. Knowing His affection for us provides great security when storms in life come.
By the 13th chapter of Luke (over halfway in), opposition to Jesus is mounting. His enemies are becoming increasingly hostile. Even the political environment is rife with violence and aggression. The chapter opens with reference to some Galileans murdered by Pilate, the Roman governor, as they offered their sacrifices (13:1). As far as the public were concerned, Jesus hailed from Galilee, with disciples who were for the most part Galilean.
He was opposed by some of His own Jewish fellow-citizens because His living approach to spirituality clashed with established religious practice. In v14 a synagogue ruler is described as "indignant" because Jesus heals on the Sabbath. Then in v31 He receives an even more negative message. At this point He's apparently in the region of Perea, just along the east side of the Jordan river - a zone ruled by Herod Antipas. This was the man who beheaded John the Baptist at a dancer's request. Easton's Bible Dictionary describes Herod this way: "He was a frivolous and vain prince, and was chargeable with many infamous crimes."
The Pharisees in those parts seem to be in cahoots with the tyrant, for they come to Jesus saying, "Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you." (13:31) How's that for a threat? Three parts, all negative: LEAVE this place; GO somewhere else [get away]; Herod wants to KILL you." It's a triple rejection of the Righteous One. It's not clear, but they may have been trying to get Jesus to go over into Judea, where He would in fact be in more danger from His own people.
People resist and reject God for a variety of reasons, some of which we see reflected here. There's the problem of a guilty conscience: that makes you afraid of God, you know you've done wrong and deserve punishment. In this case, Herod's guilty conscience pricked by the memory of murdering John the Baptist prompted him to want this next holy man to go away; he even worried that Jesus was the Baptist come back to life (Mt 14:2). Herod may have been afraid that Jesus would, like John, accuse the king of his immorality.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, instead of having a guilty conscience, enjoyed popularity with the common people and were jealous of this new meteorite on the religious landscape, who performed such miracles and rattled religious customs carefully constructed over the years - customs that gave religious leaders power and importance as interpreters and arbitrators of the law. Jesus' fresh and heart-based approach was a threat to the sham and hypocrisy people saw in established religion.
People today reject God for similar reasons - guilty consciences, or wanting to be popular and in control. sin is so widely tolerated, even encouraged, that it's hard to 'hang out with the crowd' if you want to live in holiness and respect God's limits on behaviour. Loving God means you can't just do what everybody else is doing. For example, this week for the first time I was able to go through the TV guide and pre-set my capture card to record movies. But even with basic cable, on the channels I can get, there were several movies that didn't look like they'd be exactly 'edifying' or upholding of virtue. Ratings are there for a reason, and help us show our love for God when we decline to focus our eyes on questionable material.
Jesus isn't scared off by the threats. He uses one word to describe Herod which subtly applies criticism that is just and deserved: v32, He replied, "Go tell that FOX..." commentaries note that foxes are associated with cunning, craftiness, being sly; they attack the henhouse in the middle of the night. That suits Herod's cunning, manipulative, opportunistic tactics that "got him ahead" politically but made him detested by the public.
In our case in Laird, our hens weren't bothered by foxes. Our bandits were raccoons. They too are cunning, crafty, adept at getting into places they don't belong. They even have a bandit's mask over their eyes!
I thought I'd built a pretty secure henhouse, but the coons worked away at it and managed to eventually break in. It happened in the middle of the night (of course). Our bedroom window opened on the backyard, so we heard the commotion out at the henhouse. It would have been easy to ignore the ruckus, except, as I've already told you - those birds were precious to the girls. I grabbed a flashlight and - not having the liberty of borrowing a machine gun from the armoury where I was padre - I grabbed the next deadliest thing I could find: a pitchfork. Soon, there we were, face to face inside the fence, man and beast. It struck me that this could be moderately dangerous, close encounters with a vicious wild animals - who knows if it would be carrying rabies or some other disease? Let alone those teeth and claws.
It was quite an adrenaline rush. But praise God for protection - the coon didn't win. However I did discover how hard it is to kill a coon with a pitchfork: it's not over all at once; they may be pierced but they go on struggling for a surprising length of time.
The Enemy of our soul is not an easy opponent. Sin dies hard. Especially the type that is part of our nature, what the New Testament calls 'the flesh': other sources of temptation may come from Satan or the world 'out there'; but we discover even our own flesh, our fallible human constitution, is soaked-through with sin - and traitorous. A saboteur inside, not easy to eliminate.
Responding with Grace - and Gravity
When we get messages of rejection, do we bite back? It's easy to become snarky and caustic when someone's hurt us by what they've said or done. But Jesus' response to this acidic threat is instructive: He shows both grace and gravity.
The message He gives the Pharisees to take to Herod (the direct portion of it) conveys that He will be healing and exorcising evil just a little longer, then He's done. In other words, He's re-assuring Herod that He poses no political or moral threat; His priority is God's constructive activity, which should be no cause for alarm to any king who wants what's best for his people. The tone of His message is not vindictive, but respectful, as one King to another. He basically defers to Herod's demand: "Yes, I'm on my way, very soon."
How does Jesus respond to rejection from His own people, the Jews? And the religious leaders, Pharisees and Sadducees? Here too He shows great GRACE. He clarifies His true attitude - loving, longing to gather them. "How often I have longed to gather your children together..." He re-states His invitation for them to welcome Him as the agent and long-awaited messenger of God's covenant love and salvation.
But in addition to the Grace is GRAVITY: a warning that this is serious stuff. Their decisions in the immediate situation are going to have eternal consequences. If they continue to kill the prophets and stone those sent to them, if they remain unwilling to be gathered under God's wings, v35 follows: "Look, your house is left to you desolate." The word can also be translated deserted, abandoned. No doubt the reference is to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. They would see the fulfilment of the curses for disobedience so clearly laid out by Moses in Deuteronomy 28. Or as Jeremiah (22:5) prophesied, "But if you do not obey these commands, declares the LORD, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin." God means business!
There are sayings of Jesus in this same chapter that underline the gravity of our decision whether or not to obey God. In v23 He warns people to "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door..." In v28 He predicts there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth by those who see others in the Kingdom of God, but they themselves 'thrown out'. God is love, but His righteous nature also means He is hostile toward the enemies of holiness. As Paul wrote in Romans 1(18), "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness..." Flee from God's wrath - hasten to patch up things by making Jesus your Saviour! This Lenten season, let's examine ourselves soberly lest we find in our souls the least resistance to Jesus' presence and involvement in our daily lives.
Hope for the Hostile in the Long Term
Despite the warnings of imminent judgment for rejecting Him, Jesus concludes on a note of hope in the long term. The Sovereign God is not stymied by man's fallenness; the Almighty will 'reach His goal', complete His project of salvation. True, the city has a dark reputation, to which Jesus alludes in v33 - "surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!" And they will be abandoned for a time. V35, "I tell you, you will not see me again [but wait! that's not all - he continues] UNTIL you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." This refers to the Parousia or 2nd coming of Christ, His physical return from heaven. And the saying indicates that at least some of the Jews will receive Him at that time, blessing Him for returning. Revelation 1(7) says, "Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen." Not just 'every eye' or 'the peoples of the earth': Zechariah has a special prophecy pertaining to the Jews. There the Lord promises, "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son." (Zec 12:10)
Jesus was pierced for our sin, put to death in a slow, suffering, agonizingly painful crucifixion because of our transgressions, our haughty rejection of God and choosing our own way - missing the mark. But God's spirit brings grace and prompts us to pray for forgiveness, confessing and turning from our waywardness. Such grief begets gladness as God embraces us as His sons and daughters through faith in Christ.
Jesus Heals - Even When You're 'Burned'
Being rejected can make you feel discouraged, depressed - even angry. Maybe you feel you've been 'burned', as they say. But the grace that flows from the cross of Christ helps us heal from the rejection, free from resentment, so we can extend grace and forgiveness to those who've hurt us.
No matter how badly you've been hurt, you've not been burned like Kim Phuc. The Inter-National Needs Network, a Christian aid agency, tells her story: "On June 8, 1972, an American commander ordered the napalm bombing of nine-year old Kim's village, where she and her family were hiding from a bombing raid, near Saigon the capital city. Kim's life was forever altered when napalm scorched and burned half her body with third-degree burns. Miraculously, Kim survived, despite the trauma and years of infection and severe pain. She was held captive by the Communist regime in Vietnam as a national symbol of war in all their propaganda until her subsequent defection to Canada, where she lives today with her husband and two sons.[photos]
"Every picture tells a story, but the famous picture taken by Nick Ut, for the Associated Press in 1972, actually hastened the withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam.
"[today] Kim is the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador speaking world wide speaking about forgiveness and reconciliation. Most importantly Kim has a passion to speak about forgiveness which can only be truly found through Jesus Christ and her burden is to share this good news with others.
"IN Network Canada is delighted to be working with Kim to raise kingdom funds for work in Vietnam and special projects where children have suffered because of war." (She is coming to speak at Auburn on May 26.)
Now there is a story of grace. If anyone had a right to be resentful toward her enemies, Kim does. Instead as a believer in Jesus she is ministering among North Americans and all over the globe, sharing her story as a witness to God's healing power. May the Lord help us to have such grace and love toward those who reject us. Let's pray.