It is always strange when we hear Jesus entering into what appears to be a silly debate with his opponents, until we remember that the text we read is as much about his first followers as it is about him. Frightened by the increasing demands made on them after Jesus’ death and by their exclusion from the synagogue, the early disciples of Jesus fought with one another and their Jewish brothers and sisters, and while it was foolish, it was understandable. Because they were intent on defending the purity of Jesus’ teaching, they allowed themselves to squabble over an interpretation of the gospel, and broke the bonds they had with one another. More important, while insisting on the truth as they understood it, they demeaned those around them.
The same can often be said of us. It is the rare person who has not found himself in a debate with a friend or family member that never seems to end. Even though everyone around us gets bored or loses interest, we keep insisting on our position and find ourselves saying things we really don’t mean or believe. Lent is a good time to develop “spiritual practices” that help us avoid these situations, or at least end them quickly.
The practice of discernment is a good place to start. People in twelve step recovery programs say it this way: “How important is it?” A young friend of mine went even further. Whenever he was faced with a situation that troubled him he asked three questions. Does something need to said? Does it need to be said now? Am I the person who needs to say it? This little exercise protected him from himself and his compulsions and helped him avoid senseless arguments and upset. While honest debate about the Gospel is necessary for clarity about who we are and how we are to go about in the world, it should never devolve into petty bickering or personal attacks.
Today, avoid all arguments.
When have you found yourself unable to extricate yourself from a silly debate?