About the middle of the festival Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach. The Jews were astonished at it, saying,
“How does this man have such learning when he has never been taught?”
Then Jesus answered them,
“My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him. Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking for an opportunity to kill me?”
The crowd answered,
“You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?”
Jesus answered them,
“I performed one work, and all of you are astonished. Moses gave you circumcision (it is, of course, not from Moses, but from the patriarchs), and you circumcise a man on the sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the sabbath in order that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man’s whole body on the sabbath? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
The people marvel at Jesus. They recognise not just that he is learned but that the learning he shares is special. And they say so. Many of us would become big headed and show false modesty but in Jesus there is true modesty. He is clear these words come from God and the Spirit will enable those who are seeking to God’s will to hear the truth in them.
True modesty in the face of praise is hard enough but rather than basking in glory Jesus confronts previous (and possibly spoken again) criticism. Facing criticism and neither avoiding it nor exploding in anger requires inner peace. Jesus has that peace because he knows he has listened to the one who sent him. Jesus knows that whether people like or dislike his teaching says more about the listener’s relationship with the creator than his oratory. He can only do this because he has listened.
When we face criticism, or rebuke it is easy to avoid or to fight. It is also tempting to think that we are like Jesus and so being opposed is a marker of the truth of our position. We know Jesus was right, it is harder to be sure about ourselves. Taking time to attune ourselves to kingdom values makes it more likely that we will be able to discern when criticism is valid and when it is not. Taking time to attune ourselves to Kingdom values will help us engage in right ways with those who criticise us. If, a big if, we can engage with those who criticise us with calm, inner peace, and discernment then we might both learn and grow closer to being the people God wants us to be.
The inner peace we need to behave with such Kingdom values requires us to work always at listening for God and seeking peace; without that practice we will fail to deal appropriately with difficult times.
God of peace, Strengthen me in the face of opposition, Calm me when I criticize other people, Enable me to avoid fight or flight in the face of criticism Help me to practice peaceful ways of speaking to others Help me to smother hateful words in love. Amen
The Rev’d Martyn Coe is minister in the South Lakes Group of Churches, Cumbria.