Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Jerk

I don’t even remember his name—and if I did, I wouldn’t reveal it. But he had “Jerk” written all over him. And it wasn’t what he looked like, either; it was how he handled himself. He was tall, good looking, athletic—and arrogant. He worked in a different section of the same department store where I worked while in college. He was always hitting on the girls—you know the kind: thinking he was God’s gift to women. He would hang around me—although I certainly didn’t encourage it. He constantly bombarded me with cutting jibes about my size or some imagined imperfection. Truth is, I give people permission to joke about my size—but I didn’t give him permission. In retrospect, I don’t think he was being vicious about it. I think he was just trying to joke around—trying to make a friend, but not really knowing how.

He finally got his comeuppance at work one day. I saw the immediate aftermath—but I took not the least bit of pleasure in it. One of our little cashiers—a 16-year-old who came in to work following school—had been running late. She was speeding to get to work. She topped a hill and just on the other side was an eighteen-wheeler stopped at a traffic light. She ran up under it. She didn’t survive. We had just gotten the word at work; but the jerk didn’t. He came in a little late and went to the office to sign in. Several of the sales girls were there just soaking in the news—in shock. One particular girl had red-rimmed eyes where she had been crying. He saw her and bee-lined to her. “Hey good-looking! You look rough, what you need is for me to take you out for a good time.” She leveled a body slicing gaze into his face. “You are sick! Don’t you know what happened?”

I was walking into the room when he came bursting out with a wild look on his face. In tears, he ran out of the store. Later on that day we ran into each other and he just looked pitiful. “I didn’t know, I didn’t know…” he kept repeating. That was the time when I realized that the jerk had feelings and could actually feel remorse and pain. Rather than gloating at his downfall, I felt bad for him.

You would think my attitude toward his kind of personality would have softened. It didn’t. I did not become more tolerant. Ever since, in fact, I noticed there were certain people who just rubbed me the wrong way. For me it’s the guy or gal who seems too perfect, too put together, too good to be true. This is the person who always knows better, has the better idea, and acts as if he is God’s gift to whatever. Most often, I react to the person who seems just a tad too bit direct and self-reliant.

My intolerance for this personality type showed its ugliness in a group encounter at a seminar. This too-good-to-be-true minister was talking about a situation he faced—which seemed a bit far-fetched—when the young lady beside me said, “I'm sorry. But I don’t believe you. There is something about what your saying that makes me want to ask: ‘Are you telling the truth?’” I then chimed in with my own two-cents echoing the same sentiment. The guy looked stunned and hurt. I found out later he had been telling the truth. I apologized in front of the group to him—but the damage was done. I had become the jerk.

In Ephesians 4:2, Paul tells us to be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. In the book of Colossians 3:12-14 Paul says something similar to a small town church:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all of these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (New International Version).

For some reason I like how the old versions render the words “patience” and “bearing with one another.” The old versions use two words: forebear and longsuffering. The word “forebear” means to hold up or to endure. Another word translated forebear means to protect by covering or to conceal. The idea is to endure with the insults or the failings of others, to protect the person by covering over her fault. Now this doesn’t mean you totally ignore evil behavior. That’s never appropriate. If someone is doing something which destroys others or themselves, you have to confront. But in the confrontation you still demonstrate forbearance, gentleness, and kindness.

Longsuffering is the word the modern versions translate as patience. And patience is a good word—but longsuffering almost acts like a definition, doesn’t it? To be patient is to suffer for a long time with someone’s irritating behavior. You confront and try to educate, but you don’t give up on the person. You suffer long for them.

We see this with Jesus and the twelve, don’t we? I used to think Simon Peter was just impetuous. But I don’t think that any more. Simon was a jerk. He thought he was God’s gift to revolutionaries. If you wanted a first class freedom fighter, who better to pick than Simon? You want 5,000 men in a pinch ready to take on Rome? There you go Jesus! But then Jesus throws a monkey wrench in it by sending the crowds away. "You want me to cut some guy’s head off? I’ll do it! Here am I! Send me!" (Of course, he missed and only got his ear.)

Simon was focused on the task at hand—even to the point where he would jump on Jesus and tell him to quit demoralizing the troops by talking about dying. Mark says he rebuked Jesus—and Jesus has to rebuke him. Get behind me, Satan, you’re just thinking about your own agenda, not God’s!

I can almost picture Simon Peter looking like my co-worker, running out of the room with a wild look on his face, in tears.

And yet, Jesus never lets go of Peter. He confronts him, he is direct with him, he tells him what he needs to hear; but he doesn’t give up on him.

And then there was Simon’s parallel in the Sanhedrin.

I think he was just like Peter: Saul of Tarsus. Although they seemed worlds apart: Simon a rough fisherman while Saul was trained as a Rabbi—both were so sure of themselves, so brash, so arrogant. And when Saul is confronted, he runs out the room with tears streaming out of his sightless eyes. God wasn’t ready to give up on him.

All of this gets me to thinking: if Jesus was willing to forebear to suffer long with jerks like these (and with a jerk like me) why am I so intolerant? As a follower of Christ I am called to forebear and to be patient. This is a spiritual discipline we are all called to. For you, it might not be the jerk—the arrogant—who pushes your button. Perhaps it is the crude, or the silly, or the perfectionist, or the slob, or the control freak. For every person there is a type of human being made for the express purpose of rubbing him or her the wrong way! For each of us there is someone specifically designed to irritate us! Will we be Jesus to this person? Will we exhibit the character of Christ who could be patient and bear with—who could cover over, or overlook the fault and continue to love on this person? We must.

This is not an option.

It is a command.

So may you learn the disciplines of forbearance and longsuffering. May you develop the character and mind of Jesus so you will be Jesus to those who exasperate you. May you embrace the jerk, the arrogant, the crude, the silly or whoever most irritates you; and in so doing may you discover you have embraced a Simon or a Saul and loved them into becoming a Peter and a Paul.

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