Complaining is a pretty normal fact of life – feels pretty good when it is me getting something off my chest, but grating to deal with others who complain.
Complaining seems to abound in our passages for today, Old and New Testaments alike. First, in Job, after a very stirring argument from Job’s friend Eliphaz that Job has sinned, Job rebuts his friend declaring that his complaining to God is just. Those of you that know Job, you know that Job is right! He hasn’t sinned. This is the conundrum of his dilemma. Job is suffering for no reason, and as part of the Wisdom literature, we are faced with this complexity of understanding the human condition, which is a mystery.
What we encounter in Job is a God who listens to Job’s request – who seriously engages with Job and walks with him in the midst of suffering. In many ways, Jesus does similar things in the gospel of John, walking with the disciples along their journey to greater understanding.
But Jesus does something a bit different – he confronts their complaining. The disciples, after hearing Jesus speak about flesh to eat and blood to drink, they complain to Jesus: “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” And what do you think Jesus did? Did he change his message? Did he dumb it down so people could understand?
No. He stays on point. Jesus stands up to the confrontation and the complaining and does not give in. “Does this offend you?” he asks, “Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
What we realize is that Jesus will not compromise the truth for what is convenient or causes the smallest stir.
This is a key lesson for us to learn as Americans. So often we fall into the trap of people-pleasing. We do it in our jobs; we do it in our relationships; we do it in our neighborhoods. We think that the problem will go away if we upset the least amount of people. The problem is that often this is succumbing to the bully. Just like the bully was able to control the weaker kid in 1st grade, now the mob has become the bully, even at the risk of the truth. What we often realize is that by ignoring the problem, it got worse in our trying to placate it.
We are not called to be meek and mild, compliant to the point of losing our values. Jesus didn’t. He compromised not even an inch. Of course he died for it. And we must be ready for the same – for people to not like us, perhaps even dismiss us, or hate us. But when it comes to standing up for God’s truth, there is no compromise.
And here is what I know of God’s truth – God wants us to stand up for the poor, the weak, the helpless, the widows and orphans, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the uninsured. We see this all over in the Bible, and all over in Jesus’ ministry. God wants us to break the mold of the elite and privileged and declare the world to be God’s beloved children and spread that love throughout the land.
And people will hate us for this. They will hate us because it threatens their power, their wealth, their truth. But our Truth is one that will last, and we need not fear.