When We Are Offended by Others

People are Offensive

There are not too many things that stir as much passion as being offended. Can you think back to a recent time that you have been offended? I can. It is easy. These sorts of memories pop up in my mind more easily than other sorts of memories. I can think of times where someone carelessly cuts into my character, belittles my values, or trashes someone I love. “How can they be so arrogant?” “How can I be so meaningless in their sight?” “It is not true!” We easily feel this sense of wrong doing when it is directed at us, and those that we associate with.

Where does this emotional reaction come from and why is it unbearably strong? It begins with a sense of justice. Things ought to go a certain way. I ought to be treated a certain way. People ought to think and behave a certain way. This sense of justice comes from God

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalms 89:14 ESV).

God is the one who set the world according to standards. Everything is ordered, purposeful. The garden was to be cared for, the animals governed. People were supposed to mirror God on Earth and rule with wisdom, justice and care

“You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:19–20 ESV).

We destroyed that picture and cast him aside. But we did not lose our identity. Even though we have become deeply wounded by this separation, we have not lost our hunger for justice. We carry with us the fury of God’s justice but one that is dangerously bent towards self. There are moments in all of us that we righteously defend justice but often this sense of duty is saved for our own turf. Due to fear and insecurity, we keep this tool of justice close to our chest. We are often slow to extend justice for others but quick to extend justice for ourselves. Skeptically, we gaze at the world around us, anticipating dangers, and hedging ourselves in for safety.

How did Jesus navigate these waters? He certainly was offended, upset at the manipulation of authority, and angered at the twisting of God’s Word. His own people spoke falsely about him. He was slandered and ridiculed to the end of his life. The whole story of Israel was dismantling right before his eyes as the people mocked the one who made and chose them.

Jesus responded to his offenders with two opposite, yet, mutual things. First he responded with strong words. 

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.  Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.” (Luke 11:42–44 ESV)

In his strong response, Jesus was following the principle that he came to Earth a as prophet and teacher. This was and is central to his identity. It is for us too. God intends to use his people to speak to people. People sometimes attack us to their own harm. The lies that they parade around are surely hurtful to us, but they are deadly for them. Jesus lets his accusers know this. This does not turn out well for Jesus and it won’t typically turn out well for us. It intensifies the conflict and can even cause chaotic emotional reactions. Jesus kept his emotions under control and always spoke with clarity, accuracy, and relevancy. But if his words cut, they cut like a surgeon, not like a killer. He did not use words to defend himself from feeling hurt or being hurt. He used words, even strong words, to uphold higher truths than his own integrity.

Second, Jesus responded with silence. This becomes especially evident at the end of his life.

“And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.” (Mark 15:1–5 ESV)

Why silence? By Jesus being silent before his accusers, he teaches us to not be defensive. This is incredibly hard to watch Jesus do this because it is  so unfair. Lies, bribes, favors, and fear all combine in a scene that mocks justice and fills her with rage. But Jesus says nothing, or rather nothing to stop it. He allows injustice to have its full effect to end his life. He was offended to the point of death and says nothing to defend himself. His favorite and closest friends abandoned him. His many followers turned against him. The leaders’ pathetic jealousy wins against a pure ministry to heal the people. How can this possibly be useful? Wouldn’t it be better for Jesus to just wipe them out and establish a better system, where justice and truth reign? Yes, this is ultimately better. But Jesus was after something else in the moment. He crafted a new way of living right under the nose of injustice, a way of living that submits to the beating and responds with silence. This may have led to Jesus’ demise but it didn’t end there. Jesus chose to die from his enemies because he wanted to pave a path starting at the grave and leading straight up to God. This path is good news to all that want to follow this path after him.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11 ESV)

There is a time to defend truth and speak strong words against damaging lies. But we don’t need to protect ourselves from offense. Our path is paved for us. Trusting Jesus means that we trust his path. A path where we respond with silence to a world full of offensive behavior and speech. We don’t need to post and comment, in coming to our own defense. We don’t need to scramble in order to paint the other half of the story so people see us in a better light. Jesus is inviting us to defend truth as we fight for people but keep silent when we are offended.

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