Pastor Brian Stoffregen recounts a time when he was a young man traveling with a singing group one summer. They went from town to town visiting different churches setting up musical programs with an evangelical message.
Although they were mostly received positively, not everyone liked their style of presentation. In fact, at the first church they visited, they learned that there was a man who had said before their arrival that “if any of these children have a guitar or a beard, then I don’t care. go”.
The pastor said at the time that he had a beard and played guitar in the traveling band. Sure enough, true to his word, the man was gone.
Because the man could not accept the messengers, he missed the message. The man seems to have fallen prey to one or the other. He had a preconceived idea of what he thought a Christian should look like and the person had to look like that or he wasn’t going to listen to them.
Jesus falls prey to this kind of thinking either/or in a story from the book of Mark in the Bible. At some point, Jesus returns to his hometown, but he doesn’t quite get the welcome he might have expected.
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Instead, the locals don’t seem to want to listen to him, and they doubt he really has the authority or the credentials to teach like he does. The Bible tells us that Jesus could do no act of power in his hometown, and he was amazed at their unbelief.
Why didn’t the people in Jesus’ hometown seem to respect him? Why didn’t they seem to listen to him? One reason could be that his people thought they knew him too well.
As we hear them say, “Is not the carpenter, and his (relatives) here with us?”
It was apparently inconceivable to them that God could be at work in someone they saw as a commoner like themselves.
It seems the locals couldn’t forget that this Jesus was the same child they had known growing up in their neighborhood. For them, either a teacher had the proper qualifications, or a prophet came from a certain place, or they could not be a true teacher or prophet.
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Because his hometown could not allow the possibility that Jesus could be both of their simple village and a prophet of God, or that he could not be both a humble carpenter and a dynamic teacher, they missed out. the quickening miracle and preaching. what Jesus had done in other cities.
Are there times when we miss a life-giving message because we have already pre-judged the messenger? Do we sometimes fall prey to one or another of the thoughts that cause us to miss another person’s humanity or gifts?
Do we sometimes dismiss people or make assumptions about them based on what they wear or how they look? Do we categorize people based on their origin, skin color, or whether or not they have a certain job, criminal record, or different physical or mental abilities?
Is there more we could see and learn from others if we allowed more to think both/and rather than thinking either/or?
Pastor Erik Goehner is a member of the Conejo Valley Interfaith Association and Senior Pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks. He can be contacted by email at [email protected].