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43 Days: A Failing Grade in Community

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:37-40 (ESV)

I just came back from a very interesting Sunday school class discussing Pastor’s sermon on Acts 7:44:53 and in fact, I really think I embarrassed myself.

I didn’t mean to, of course.

We were talking about how Christians might limit God and put Him, and our faith, “in a box,” so to speak. It was an extension of what we had learned about the Tabernacle and the Temples from today’s sermon (Pastor does believe that Ezekiel’s Temple will literally be built, which was a relief to hear). One woman in the class was discussing how our true duty as Christians is to believe, quoting from parts of John 6 and Christ’s “bread of life sermon.” I jumped in (and it wasn’t the first time I shot off my big mouth in class today) and said something about feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty something to drink, and visiting the sick, as evidence of our faith.

Then Charlie, the class teacher said something that stopped me cold.

He basically told me that he thought the “final judgment”section of Matthew 25 (specifically Matthew 25:31-46) has been misunderstood. He reminded me of something I had mentioned just a few minutes before; that Jesus was a Jew talking to other Jewish people. He said he understood from the passage that we Christians have a special duty to love the Jewish people and that how we Christians treat the Jews is how we shall be judged.

Wow.

He didn’t put it exactly in those words but like I said, it stopped me cold. I was being very gently rebuked for applying to humanity something that should only be applied to the Jewish people.

Like I said, wow! Really?

I still don’t think that we’re supposed to ignore the needs of a desperate world around us, but I suddenly saw those verses in a new light. I’ve never heard that interpretation before and I don’t know if anyone shares it, but it makes a sort of sense, particularly in light of some of what the “strict: form of Messianic Judaism teaches about the church’s duty to Israel and the Jewish people.

I feel like I really missed something and frankly, I feel pretty humbled (and not a little humiliated) by the whole experience. I have to admit that after some of the conversations I’ve had lately about how certain corners of Messianic Judaism tend to treat Christians like red-headed, left-handed, ne’er-do-well, mentally deficient, step-children, that I also fell into the trap of thinking I had a “leg up” on a few things, given my background. I failed not only at community but especially at humility.

But it’s so confusing because there seems to be such a mix of ideas, opinions, and interpretations going on, and a lot of it seems very traditionally Christian. Then I hit a major speed bump in my assumptions about the church environment I’m in and came to a complete halt. I guess this is something about me God wanted me to learn…and He chose a pretty public spot in which to teach it to me.

Fortunately, it happened near the end of class and I could beat a hasty retreat back to my car and home.

I had intended to write about how the Pastor interpreted the role of the Temple in Judaism, and especially his rather unique understanding of what Stephen was accusing the Sanhedrin of, relative to “putting God in a box.” But then my own failure in putting Christianity “in a box” took precedence, not just in failing to consider the consequences of the Matthew 25 teaching, but in daring to think I actually had something to contribute that might be new and interesting to the class. I was arrogant and I was wrong.

Oops.

When I was anticipating going to church this morning, I got a feeling of boredom, like I’d have to put up with a bunch of “Christianese” for the sake of reconciliation and community. Now I wonder if I should even go back, having stubbed my toe that badly. Maybe I have nothing to contribute at all. Maybe my personal, internal template just can’t be adjusted sufficiently to integrate with these people.

It’s 43 days until my self-imposed time limit, which seems like a goodly amount of time, but it also translates into a maximum of six more Sundays until the end of the year. Let’s figure that I won’t be going to services on December 23rd for obvious reasons, and that takes me down to five Sundays, each a maximum of three hours of exposure to this community. Fifteen more hours total. So far, not including my interview with Pastor Randy, I only have nine hours under my belt.

I took a risk today. I spoke my mind again in class. I really tried to keep quiet and self-contained in services, even sitting in the very back for fear of taking up someone else’s seat, but in class it’s harder because it’s interactive. Things seemed to be going well or at least “neutral” until that last string of words that came out of my mouth.

Like I said…oops.

Anyway, I have a week before I have to face my embarrassment again. We’ll see how it goes. After nine hours, I don’t feel any closer to this community than I did when I first walked in the door, apart from recognizing a few faces. Fifteen more hours to go until I have to make a decision. I might not go back at all except I set a time limit and I am determined to see it through. Maybe it would have been better if I knew nothing at all. Maybe it would have been better if I had a personality that was so shy that I could never speak in a group.

But if I keep my commitment to those last fifteen hours, will it really do any good? I just don’t seem to “do” community very well. There’s a saying attributed to Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens):

“It is better to have people think you a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Today, I removed all doubt.

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