If you read the gospels enough you’ll notice how often the people around Jesus are grumbling. When outcasts come to listen to Jesus the scriptures say, “the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law started grumbling, ‘This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!'” (Luke 15:2). When Jesus invites Zacchaeus down from the tree and invites himself to dinner the crowd grumbles that Jesus would go to the home of a sinner. When he cures on the Sabbath or eats grain from a field, the religious leaders grumble. During the Bread of Life discourse in John’s gospel it says, “The people started grumbling about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.'”
Grumble, grumble, grumble!
People grumble at Jesus’ way of love. Yet I never get the sense that Jesus ever grumbles. He goes about his ministry, is prophetic, and prompts conversion without ever grumbling to the people he encounters. He observes and cleverly points out his observations so to open eyes, never once judging the other. By judging I mean calling into question the dignity or worthiness of the other. This is the kind of judging we tend to do that leads to grumbling. “Don’t they see what a sinful person they are!” “Why don’t they go to church more and be more grateful!” “They don’t realise they’re living in sin.” Comments like these have a bad-tempered and self-righteous undertone that causes us to call into question the other’s worthiness. That is the kind of judgement-grumbling that the people around Jesus do. His apostles even do this when they complain others are driving out demons in Jesus’ name “because he doesn’t belong to our group”. Jesus steps back and says simply, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” He does not get caught up in the grumbling.
Jesus’ lack of grumbling shows a spirit of freedom. He notices and invites, but when someone refuses the invitation, he may be sad or disappointed, but he does not grumble. “Shake the dust off your feet,” he might say. Many parents may struggle when their children stop going to church or leave the faith. There’s a natural sadness, of course. We desire our children to share a faith which is so meaningful to us, but we cannot allow our disappointment to turn into grumbling. We may invite by our lived example or gentle words, but still find the freedom to allow our children to take their own spiritual journey. In their book, If God Is Love, James Mulholland and Philip Gulley talk about how God understands how our spiritual journeys sometimes involve crawling and falling:
Why is it that when children are beginning to walk, we celebrate their every step and accept every fall, but when men and women begin their spiritual journeys, we often point out their every failure and ignore their tentative steps? This is not the divine response.
Jesus is amazingly patient with his challengers. When they grumble and argue about his calling himself “the bread that came down from heaven” he says to them, “Stop grumbling among yourselves. … Everyone will be taught by God.” There’s a freedom here, a patience that his teachings may take time to be received and internalised. Jesus doesn’t grumble back. He recognises each person’s belovedness, even the sinners, outcasts, and Pharisees – a sign of which is that he shares a meal with them.
The way of Jesus involves a freedom with others that upholds their dignity, belovedness, and their own free will. Grumbling, with its unloving judgement, bad temperedness, and self-righteousness, completely lacks that freedom.
When you notice someone who is not living the way you think is right, how do you respond? Do you give others room to make their own spiritual journeys?
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