ABC News correspondent John Quinones began hosting a hidden-camera television program in 2008 called What Would You Do? The show became a hit as it featured actors acting out troubling scenes in public places while hidden cameras captured the responses of unknowing real-life bystanders. Each episode concludes with the host poignantly asking viewers: “What would you do?” It’s a question that helps us contend with our personal reactions to injustice and wrongdoing. Would we likely give into bystander apathy or would we speak out and intervene? In a sense, studying the life of Jesus, the predicaments and situations that emerge in his journey, evokes the same question—especially when his truth-telling causes embarrassment and discomfort. As I read the Gospels, I ask myself the question time and again: What would I do?
Confrontation is Uncomfortable
I cringe at my own sheepish inclinations to take the easy way out in these situations where Jesus is so transparent. At the same time, I recoil at the idea of being as forthright as he is. Consider how he handles the insulting treatment from his dinner host, Simon. When Jesus realizes Simon invited him to his house to embarrass him and reveal him as a heretic, Jesus calls him out right there and then. Would you do that? I’d complain to friends later on, for sure. But confront my host directly in the moment? That’s what Jesus did. Simon’s immoral behavior is being masqueraded as goodness, and Jesus wants no part of the charade. To remain silent would be the same as endorsing his conniving behavior. So he confronts it —just as he does with Zacchaeus, Martha, the woman at the well, the chief priests, and on and on. Even his own disciples.
Before you chalk up this forthright approach to being a personality issue more than a mandate, consider the straightforward teaching of Jesus on the matter: “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him —work it out between the two of you.” There’s an urgency to this truth-telling. And Jesus even prioritizes it over our worship: “If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.”
Truth-Telling Is a Priority
It’s clear that, for Jesus, truth-telling is not something we do when we get around to it. He makes it a top priority: “Don’t lose a minute,” he says. “Make the first move; make things right.” Jesus doesn’t tell us to ruminate on it. Gossip about it. No. He says we need to speak the truth, but with love: “Confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.”
Truth without love is ugly, and love without truth is spineless. As the ancient proverb says: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend [who corrects out of love and concern], but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful [because they serve his hidden agenda].”
Jesus is all about authenticity. He wants us to take off our masks and live congruent lives without hidden agendas or empty promises:
“Don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.”
Early in his ministry, while in Galilee, Jesus meets a man named Nathanael. His brother, Philip, has invited Nathanael to “come and see” the man he and his friends have met, a man who has already stirred their faith and hope. Nathanael scoffs but goes with them. As Nathanael approaches, Jesus says of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”
Jesus is engaging in some clever wordplay —these men would have known that their ancestor Israel, formerly Jacob, was known as the “Deceiver” because of the ways he tricked his brother, Esau, and his father, Isaac. But Jesus is also commenting on the observed character of Nathanael, declaring him to be a man in whom there is nothing false. Nathanael is honest and direct; he says what he thinks (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”). He responds with openness to his brother’s invitation to explore a fresh opportunity for growth by meeting this new rabbi. And Jesus praises Nathanael for this.
Jesus himself lived in a way that was utterly transparent, straightforward, and direct, and he wants us to follow in this wayClick To Tweet.Not only does a life marked by truth-telling open us up to the richness of our spiritual relationship with God, but it also empowers us to live meaningfully and lovingly with each other.
Adapted from Love Like That. Copyright © 2018 Dr. Les Parrott, published by Nelson Books, used with permission, all rights reserved.