How easily are you offended? What offends you? When you are offended, how often is it legitimate and how often is it either a hyper-sensitivity on your part (you’re looking for something to take the wrong way) or how often is it just a convenient excuse you use to justify what you wanted to do all along?
There is an interesting account from the life of Jesus found in the book of Matthew. “When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’ they asked. ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.’” (Matthew 13:53–57, NIV84).
How is it that the people of Jesus’ hometown could move so fast from amazement to offense? They admit being impressed by His wisdom and miraculous powers. But like so many today it seems as if they were just looking for a reason to reject Him.
They are offended that a common, ordinary man who they knew firsthand, whose brothers and sisters and mother still lived among them, could demonstrate such insight and power. Their response was to take offense at Him. After all, if someone offends you, you now have a legitimate excuse to reject them and everything they say.
Years ago I was a camp director for a program that dealt with kids in trouble and kids headed for trouble. We dealt with some pretty hardcore delinquent children and kids living in environments that fostered delinquency. I did that ministry from 1968 to 1980.
One particular year we were dealing with the young women who had come to our program and I was explaining to this new group the rules of the camp. One young lady took visible and verbal exception to every statement I made with a loud click of her tongue, a roll of her head and eyes and a mumbled, “You made that rule just to get me!”
After enduring her drama through the entire orientation, I mentioned the reward for correct behavior and she clicked her tongue but halfway between the roll of her eyes and head, it dawned on her that I hadn’t just set another prohibition, I talked about promised reward.
But by that time she had been sufficiently offended by the rules she opposed (for example, for fire safety we have a designated smoking area, you can have all you want to eat, but you must eat what you take, and so on) she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, accept the positive aspect of the camp.
One would have thought that she would have been delighted to be out of her institution where the restrictions were far stricter than ours, but she couldn’t. Offended that she could not do exactly what she wanted to do when she wanted to do it, she elected to go back to her YDC rather than enjoy the freedoms offered.
I find many people today offended by what they see as the restrictions of Christianity. They can’t get beyond what they perceive as “negative” to realize that these perceived restrictions are often guidelines that, if followed, will bring a more satisfying and fulfilling life.
Such people have already taken offense at even the concept that there might just really be a standard of absolute truth, which, if followed, will bring reward but, if rejected, will bring certain disastrous consequences.
Similarly, the people in Jesus’ hometown would rather take offense and limit the potential that lay before them rather than surrender their prejudices and explore further what they had seen and heard from Jesus.
What about you? Are you one who has allowed some offense, perceived or real, to rob you of the power that you could have experienced in your life if you had but suspended your pride and heard what you admit is somewhat amazing?
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.