The Definition Of A Bigot
I want to begin by saying I struggled with using the word bigot. The first definition that comes up when I Google it is, “a person who is intolerant toward those holding different opinions.” That’s similar to other definitions I found, including the one from Merriam-Webster and that’s the meaning of the word as it’s used in this blog post. But for many people today the word bigot has become synonymous with the word racist and that’s NOT the meaning of the word as used in this article.
When Rules Trump Jesus’ Love
Today a Christian friend of mine shared about a man I’ll call Tom. My friend cared for this man in a group home because Tom had a serious cognitive disability. Tom’s capacity to enjoy life was severely limited: there was just one, and only one, activity that brought him joy and that was to play in water. But the state he lives in decided Tom was a drowning risk. So even though the only time–the only time–you would ever see a smile on Tom’s face was when he played in water, he wasn’t permitted to, because it violated the rules the state imposed on this friend of mine as his caregiver. Tom’s situation reminds me of where we’re at in the book of John.
The Religious Bigots Of Jesus’ Day
In our last study from the book of John we left off with Jesus having just healed a man who’d been lame for thirty-eight years. Jesus’ last words to the man were: Get up, pick up your bed, and walk. And even though Jesus asked the man to do something he found impossible to do, for thirty-eight years, he tried it anyway. And he was rewarded.
So now this guy’s walking around carrying his bedroll with him, on the Sabbath. And some of the religious leaders see him. And they say: Hey, you with the bedroll, it’s the Sabbath. It’s against the rules for you to carry around your bed like that.
God gave the Sabbath for rest, but the Pharisees had done some extrapolation. If a little rest is good, then a lot must be better, was their thinking. So they added their own rules to God’s words, and one of their rules was “no bed carrying allowed on the Sabbath.”
The newly healed man with the bedroll answers (with a shrug, I imagine): The man who healed me said, Pick up your bed and walk. So I did.
The Pharisees say: Who told you to pick up your bed and walk? (John 5:9-13)
Isn’t that amazing? When he tells them he was healed, the religious leaders don’t rejoice at God’s mercy and ask, Who is this wonderful person who healed you? No, instead they say (in an accusatory tone, I imagine): Who told you to pick up your bed and walk? Who told you to break our rules?
They’re religious bigots. As soon as their expectations were violated, they became more concerned about their expectations than they were with Jesus’ mercy. They valued their rules more than Jesus’ love.
The Religious Bigots Of Today
Sadly, there are still religious bigots around today. People more concerned with their expectations, their rules, or their world view, than they are with Jesus’ love and mercy. Last week in church I heard Randy Alcorn talk about how certain Christians feel as though, if someone’s having a good time, they must be sinning.
Alcorn went on to say that Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine–to save a party. All those feasts and festivals in the Bible, Randy said, were parties. The New Testament feasts were full of laughter, and happiness, and love. Part of being a Christ follower includes parties.
And then, speaking of the laughter and happiness at Jesus’ table during his feast, in heaven, Alcorn said, “I think the loudest and most contagious laughter, will be the laughter of the one at the head of the table: King Jesus…” (Alcorn)
I’m sad to say I know a few Christians like those Randy Alcorn described, those who become offended at other Christians. One example concerns alcohol. I know a few Christians who don’t drink alcohol, who are offended at Christians who do drink alcohol. And, I know a few Christians who do drink alcohol, who are offended at Christians who don’t! Another example concerns denominationalism. I know Protestants who are offended at Catholics. And I know Catholics who are offended at Protestants. I’m convinced we’re all in danger of the same sin as the Pharisees when we think this way. When we think this way we’re outside of Jesus’ desire for us expressed in John chapter 17.
The Religious Bigot Within
Religious bigotry gets more personal than that though. I find it inside of myself, and maybe you do too. The Pharisees became offended when their expectations about their rules were violated. The Pharisees had their expectations, and I have mine. And when God doesn’t meet my expectations, I can become offended at Jesus too. I become offended at Jesus because I prayed, I read my Bible, maybe I helped people on the margins and so I expected Him to answer my request, but He didn’t. Or I become offended because He didn’t answer in my timing, when I expected him to. Or He didn’t answer in the way I expected him to. When Jesus violates my expectations, I can become offended.
And then there’s the issue of culture. I’m leaning on those Pharisees pretty hard but the truth is, their expectations about the Sabbath were right in line with the society in which they lived. It was when Jesus didn’t fit in with their culture that they were offended. And if you think about it, every culture down through history has had expectations that didn’t, or don’t, fit in with Jesus’ teachings. Sometimes we get caught up in thinking about where other cultures got it wrong and where our culture gets it right. But just as those other cultures didn’t realize how wrong they were at the time, there are ideas and values in our culture that are wrong. (And we don’t even know what many of them are yet. One hundred years from now people will laugh at some of what we value today.) My culture, and your culture, mostly comes from the five or so friends we interact with the most. And when Jesus doesn’t fit in with what our friends think, we can become offended: the same way the Pharisees were offended when Jesus didn’t fit with their culture.
2,000 Years Makes It So Easy
Two thousand plus years provides perspective that makes it so easy to see, the Pharisees were wrong to go with their expectations instead of Jesus. But while immersed in the society of first century Israel, as Jesus was, it had to be much more murky. Yet Jesus wasn’t afraid to go against the flow of the Pharisees’ expectations or the expectations of his culture.
When Jesus violates our expectations, or the expectations of our culture, I pray Christ will give us the strength to follow Him.
Even when it means going against the flow.
Against the Flow image via Marcin Bajer – Creative Commons
Thank you for these thoughts. Refreshing to read this.
The story of Tom…so poignant. And the commentary on religious bigotry, without and within: spot on. May we learn to live in grace. Thank you for the reminder.