The following is an excerpt from my book, The Map: The Way of All Great Men. I’m describing Jesus during his Journey of Strength – the second journey of manhood. I’d love to send you an autographed copy — direct from my home in Alaska.
Curious thing about Jesus—the man who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” seemed to revel in conflict. Remember that famous proverb: “A gentle answer turns away wrath?” (Proverbs 15:1). Well, Christ seems to have scratched that one out of his Bible. Whenever Jesus saw a spark, he threw gasoline on it.
One such instance saw Jesus invited to a dinner party at the home of a Pharisee (Luke 11:37–54). The host asked Christ a simple question: Why don’t you wash your hands before eating? (Ceremonial washing was the custom among observant Jews in those days. Since Jesus advertised himself as a rabbi, this would have been expected.)
If I were Jesus, I would probably have answered, “First, let me thank you for inviting me to dinner. That lamb smells delicious. Now, I’ll answer your good question with one of my own: which is more important: to clean the inside of the cup, or the outside?” Such a cordial reply would have led to an evening of good conversation and healthy debate.
But Jesus didn’t even try to be nice. He not only bit the hand that fed him; he practically tore it off. “You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness,” he roared. From there Christ amped up his rhetoric, ridiculing the Pharisees’ legalism and self-importance. He then descended to name-calling, labeling his hosts “unmarked graves” (Luke 11:44). He concluded his diatribe by blaming their forefathers for murdering the prophets and apostles.
Whew. It seems to be a bit of an overreaction to an honest question about religious hygiene. And this is how Jesus treated someone who had invited him to dinner. I can’t remember the last party I attended in which a guest leveled murder charges against his hosts and their ancestors.
So I challenge you to answer this question: if we are supposed to be imitators of Christ, how on earth are we supposed to imitate this? Is Jesus giving us a green light to blast our opponents? To call people names? To nurse ancient grudges?
Well, no. There is a positive takeaway from the Lord’s outburst. Believe it or not, Jesus is demonstrating the art of peacemaking. Really. Christ’s volcanic reaction is an extreme example of how real peacemaking begins. In this dustup with the Pharisees, Christ was illustrating the first step of true peacemaking: bold truth-telling. He was aggressively telling these religious leaders the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
These Pharisees had been lied to their entire lives. Their traditions told them they were made holy by their pious rituals. So Jesus’ savage rebuke was an act of love. He was chopping away at the religious thicket that imprisoned the hearts of these children of God. That’s courageous peacemaking.Most Christians are not very good at peacemaking, but we’re experts at peacekeeping. There is a difference. Whereas a peacemaker boldly seeks a long-term, sustainable peace between warring factions, a peacekeeper simply places a bandage over wounds and pretends they’re not there.
This happens in church all the time. A conflict breaks out between two families. Instead of dealing with it directly and decisively (as Jesus instructs us in Matthew 18), we pacify. We pretend everything is okay. The warring parties smile and grit their teeth on Sunday morning, but the rest of the week it’s gossip and backstabbing. Eventually the church may even split—because peacekeeping is no substitute for peacemaking.
The same thing happens when church denominations debate controversial issues. Instead of definitive peacemaking (fight it out, declare a winner, and move on), denominational leaders paper over the conflicts in the name of “unity and peace.” But the underlying wounds continue to fester. Every year they pop up at the general assembly meeting. The press goes wild. Churches are torn apart. How much better if these organizations had years ago followed Jesus’ example and embraced conflict, rather than avoiding it?
In your personal life: are you a peacemaker or a peacekeeper? When you’re facing a tough conversation, do you avoid it? When you are at odds with someone else, do you seek immediate resolution or steer clear?
A man who would walk in the journey of strength must not skirt conflict, but rather wade into it, seeing it as a growth opportunity for everyone. Just tell the truth. This is the essence of strength.
David Murrow is the author of the bestselling book, Why Men Hate Going to Church. David’s books have sold more than 175,000 copies in 12 languages. He speaks to groups around the world about Christianity’s persistent gender gap. He lives in Alaska with his wife of more than 30 years, professional silk artist Gina Murrow. Learn more about David at his Web site, www.churchformen.com, or join the conversation on his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/churchformen. Don’t forget to share this page by clicking on the links below, or scroll down and leave a comment (right below those annoying ads that pay for this blog).