Years ago, when I was still farming, I accidentally hit my thumb with a hammer and the pain I felt was so excruciating that I was certain that I had broken my thumb. So, I went to the doctor to get it checked out. After looking at it, the doctor explained to me that my thumb was not broken and the pain I was experiencing was from the pressure of blood building up under my thumbnail. He told me that he was going to have to poke a hole in my thumb nail to relieve the pressure and that would ease the pain. I wasn’t sure if I really believed him, but by that point I was in so much pain, I was willing to try almost anything, so I said, “Ok.” What the doctor then did was get a bunsen burner, a plier and a paper clip, and after unfolding the paper clip slightly, he put it in the pliers and held the paper clip over the flame and heated it until it was red hot. Then he pressed down in the centre of my throbbing thumbnail with the point of the glowing paper clip and burned through the nail. After a few moments, that red hot paper clip burned all the way through my thumbnail. I jumped and gave a little yelp as the hot paper clip hit my tender flesh and blood spurted out of the hole. The doc was right. Immediately, I began to feel relief from the pain and eventually that thumb healed up just like it was before. And I would not have minded the whole process quite so much, but I’m pretty sure he let out a little chuckle when I jumped because of the pain of that paper clip.
Sometimes, you have to say or do something that might cause another person pain before you can help them, like that doctor did for me. Another example of a situation like that is when a mother takes her child to a clinic for a vaccination. However, in adult to adult encounters, we don’t like doing anything that might cause someone pain and offend them. Now we should not be obnoxious, but this reluctance to offend results in us being relationally paralyzed because it is impossible for us to go through life without offending someone else. All of us are sinners, so we cannot avoid doing or saying something in the wrong way. It is part of the nature of communication that we cannot say or do things in a way that they will never be misunderstood. All of us are broken, so we cannot avoid reacting when our personal heart wounds are touched, not can we avoid touching someone else’s personal heart wound because we don’t know what they are. We are all individuals with our own personal thoughts, personality and experiences, so there will always be times when others disagree with us, even if what we are saying is true. You cannot avoid offending other people. When avoiding causing an offense becomes the main thing in our lives, we withdraw from social interactions and we guard what we say to limit the likelihood of that happening, but then we become less than our true selves when we do that and we are not really helping others in the process.
This reluctance to offend has also had a negative impact on our culture. Our culture has become more concerned about likes and dislikes than about truth. And when truth disappears, then next thing to go is compassion. Once I witnessed an accident where a motorcyclist was injured because he clipped the back corner of a car and the first reaction of the woman driving the car was to be offended because her car was scraped. We live in a culture where we greatly value the opposite of offending people, we want people to “like” us to the point where we will compromise moral, ethical or even legal boundaries to get the likes we seek. About ten days ago, an Australian judge sentenced a Canadian woman, Mélina Roberge, to eight years in jail for trying to smuggle 95 kilos of cocaine, worth about $20 million, into Australia on a cruise ship. Mélina and her partner in crime, Isabelle Lagacé, smuggled the drugs to finance their well-photographed trip to various exotic locations around the world. There was no concern about the impact those drugs would have on the people who used the. During her trial, Mélina told the court that the purpose of the trip was to gain more acceptance on social media. The judge, Catherine Traill said, “It is sad they seek to attain such a vacuous existence where how many likes they receive is their currency. She wanted to be the envy of others. I doubt she is now the envy of others.”
We and our culture are in trouble. Culture was given by God to humanity to help humans thrive in this world. But our culture’s aversion to offending people makes us unable to deal in truth. As a result, we are like a party boat floating down the Fraser River without an engine or a rudder. Everyone on the boat is partying up a storm while they slowly but surely drift out to sea.
But God wants something more for us and for our culture than the morass in which we now find ourselves. God knows that the way to change a culture is not by using political power from the top down. The way to change a culture is by changing one life at a time through a relationship with His Son, Jesus. God wants all people to thrive at life through a relationship with His Son Jesus, but for that to happen, people need to know the truth, even if it offends them.
So let’s take a look at our reading for some help on matters like this. If you have a Bible or Bible app on your phone, please turn to John 6:60-71. In this passage, Jesus finds Himself in a situation where what He has said has offended others, and let’s see how he handles the situation.
What caused the offence was something that Jesus said a little earlier when He told people, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them to life on the last day” (John 6:54).
Now, there are two ways that someone can be offended: They can misunderstand and be offended, or they can understand correctly and be offended. At first, Jesus’ Jewish listeners misunderstood Him and were offended. They took Jesus’ words literally and thought that He was promoting cannibalism, something that would have been very offensive to Jews because of clear prohibitions in the Jewish faith against cannibalism and drinking blood. And we know that Jesus was not speaking literally because He said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe” (John 6:63-64). Jesus is telling His listeners that His words have spiritual significance that goes far beyond their literal meaning.
So what did Jesus mean when He said that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we will not have life in ourselves? Why was what He told them so important that He was willing to take the risk of offending them? Jesus was telling the people that, in Him, God was doing something that He had never done before. God wrapped Himself in human flesh and blood and became a human being to save everyone from our headlong rush towards self-destruction. But as great and wonderful a gift as Jesus is, that gift means nothing if we don’t bring Jesus into our inner world and let Him reign there. Jesus’ words may have resulted in confusion at first, but then, even after He explained Himself and people understood what He said, people still were offended. In verse 66 we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Jesus had gathered a crowd, but now the crowd betrayed Him.
Jesus then turned to His twelve closest disciples and asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (v. 67) Just because someone is close to you is no guarantee that they won’t be offended by something that you say or do. But Peter gets it. He knows the precariousness of human existence and he has munched on the Bread of Life, so he knows the gift of life that Jesus has given him. Peter responds to Jesus’ question by saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (vv. 68-69)
Jesus accepts Peter’s answer, indicating its truthfulness. And why wouldn’t He, after all, Jesus had chosen these twelve followers Himself. But here is the key: Jesus chose these twelve followers and He invested His life in them, even though He knew that Judas would betray Him, Peter would deny Him and all of them would desert Him when the temple guards would come to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus intentionally made Himself vulnerable to these broken, betraying people. Jesus was both secure in and motivated by the love that He shared with His heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit to speak the truth to those He loved even though it was likely to offend them. Standing on the truth, Jesus knew that He was the only way of salvation offered to the world by God, so He had to tell the people. Jesus also knew that offence is sometimes the necessary prequel to acceptance, that people often kick back against something that threatens to turn all that they have thought and believed in the past upside down before, with time and the Holy Spirit, it settles in their heart and they know it to be true.
Jesus made Himself vulnerable to broken, betraying people like us because of truth and love. Jesus knows the truth about us but He loves us too much to leave us the way that we are. Jesus comes to us and tells us the truth about ourselves through the Bible. The truth is that there is brokenness, betrayal and darkness in our lives just like there was in the hearts of the first followers of Jesus. It is painful to hear that truth about ourselves, but that pain prepares us for the greater truth that Jesus also gives us. In Jesus, God’s love has wiped away all our sin, guilt and shame on the cross. With Jesus there is no barrier between us and God, no condemnation from God, only unconditional love and acceptance. You have a close, intimate relationship with God the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Live life in this world for any length of time and you will be sure to experience betrayal: a boyfriend who dumps you, a business partner who takes advantage of you on a deal, or a friend who shares a deep, dark secret that you have told to no one else. But there is one thing that will protect your heart from being torn in two when that betrayal comes. And that is to rest in the pure, faithful love of Jesus. Jesus knows and wants what is best for you, He will never let you down and you are forever safe with Him. And when your heart is resting in Jesus’ love and Jesus is living His life through you, then you will have the courage you need to love other people enough to tell them the truth, even if it offends them and they then decide to betray you. You will be sad about their departure, but it will not threaten you because you have all that you need in Jesus. You will be free, free to speak and live the truth with love for God and for the world.
Then we will be people that can make a lasting difference in this world. And as more and more and more people believe in Jesus, the culture we live in will be transformed as Jesus’ followers fulfill their role of being salt and light in this world. And it all starts with each of us letting Jesus be our source of love, strength and truth. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on Langley BC on April 29, 2018. It is based on John 6:60-71.)