Reflection on Criticism – June 7, 2015
REFLECTION – June 7, look 2015
Gospel: Mark 3:20-35
Today our first lesson is about disobedience to God: The people requesting a new king. Jesus brought them out of Egypt and they have shown disobedience ever since. They are seeking a new king, but what they really need is a unified faith, not a unified rule.
The second lesson is about having faith, especially in times of struggles. As Christians, we learn to give thanks and praise every day for life’s blessings. Nevertheless, faith is successful when accompanied by patience. When we are able to praise God in difficult times, he provides wonderful ways to strengthen and sustain us.
Although I decided to base my “reflection” on today’s gospel reading, I confess that I initially struggled with the words Beelzebub and Satan. My dilemma was finding a way of doing a reflection based on the gospel, without getting “preachy.” Nevertheless, I wanted my reflection to be authentic and representative of my personal beliefs, but based on the scriptures.
Today’s Gospel reading is about the Pharisees and teachers of the law who criticized Jesus. In the reading, this is how the Bible defines Criticism: Criticism is the act of judging unfavorably or faultfinding. Jesus was quite critical of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, and He expressed His disapproval forcibly on several occasions. However, Jesus’ criticisms were always truthful and, we learn from this reading that Jesus managed criticism, not with anger and hatred, but with gentleness, forgiveness and peace.
Furthermore, in Ephesians; It states that “speaking the truth in love” should be our primary guide in criticism. Godly criticism is true and loving. It comes from a humble, caring heart that wishes the best for the other person. It is not bitter, condescending, insulting, or cold-hearted. More importantly, Biblical criticism is helpful, loving, and based on truth. Correction is to be gentle. It comes from love, not from a sour personality. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he cautioned us again about being careful when we criticise.
It states, (Galatians 5:22-23) If criticism cannot be expressed in keeping with the fruit of the Spirit, its better left unsaid. In other words, if your intent is to be spiteful or to demean someone, then it is much better to be silent. Personally, I try practicing silence when I encounter someone with a “sour personality.” If I have nothing good to say about that individual, then I say nothing. This is not easy to do, but with practice, it gets easier.
However, that does not mean that if my esteemed friend Ed Shaw criticizes my choice of alcoholic beverage during Lent I will hold my tongue. No! That is a completely different story. I will have a lot to say.
Throughout the Bible, there is countless times where Jesus received criticism and he always found clever ways to handle the situation with his disciples, as well as with the people. His favourite way of resolving the issue, was to answer a question with a question. For example, in today’s Gospel reading, (Mark 3:22) the Pharisees and teachers of the Law called him Beelzebub. They claim that he is driving out demons by the prince of demons. Jesus asks, “How can Satan drive out Satan?” Jesus cleverly extricated himself from the situation to avoid conflict.
Most people criticize something, or someone they do not understand. It is very difficult to live with criticism, especially when that criticism is intentionally hurtful. However, we can learn how to manage criticism through the examples of God’s words and his teachings in the bible. Another example of how Jesus dealt with criticism is in (Matthew 12:9-15). After Jesus healed a man with shriveled hand on the Sabbath and the Pharisees criticized him. Jesus withdrew peacefully to avoid them. He knew that they were trying to trap him.
Recently, the first lady Michelle Obama made a moving speech at the convocation of Tuskegee University. She spoke passionately of how hurtful the criticisms have been over the years, especially during recent years. This is how she responded to years of criticism of her and her husband, President Obama. “I realized that if I wanted to keep my sanity, and not let others define me; there was only one thing I could do, and that was to have faith in God’s plan for me. I had to ignore all the noise and be true to myself, and the rest would work itself out.”
Criticism is everywhere. It is in our schools, our workplace, and our personal lives and in social situations. It is a very important issue that is worthy of discussion, especially when we think of all the young children who are continuously criticised and bullied. In many of those instances, it led to suicide.
There is healthy criticism…given in the spirit to encourage improvement. Nevertheless, we have to be careful because criticism can be harmful. You can harm an individual who is emotionally or mentally fragile, with your criticism. We do not have to always agree or disagree with a criticism. In addition, criticism is not all bad because it can bring about change. Criticism makes us better. Frequently, it is the impetus for life altering changes.
Often though, when the criticism comes from a loved one, it sounds harsh, but their criticism generally comes from a place of love. The difference is in how you give the message. For instance, you may think that you are being helpful, but please do not say to your spouse, “Honey I love you, but that dress looks terrible on you.” You may have to sleep on the couch for a night or two after that remark. As well, please do not say, “Babe you need to hit the gym, you’re packing on the pounds.” That will get you the silent treatment or a week on the couch. The thing to remember is that you can learn, even from people who criticize with malicious intent. You have to be able to differentiate what good you can take from the criticism. Use that one thing to make a positive difference in your life.
As part of my preparation for today’s reflection, I listened to a sermon by the Rev. TD Jakes who is one of my favourite ministers. T D Jakes’s interpretation of Biblical criticism encourage me to do some deep soul searching, but his message is so on point with today’s Gospel reading. However, the most important take away for me was this, and I quote, “It takes strength and tenacity to absorb criticism and still do God’s work.” “Good leadership requires someone who stands for something in bad times and when the chips are down, regardless of criticism.”
We should treat criticism as an opportunity for God to bring out the best in us, not the worst. It is a chance for us to grow in our capacity so that we can share the kindness of Christ. For instance, if you use kind words to someone who act spitefully towards you, God will smile and the angels will have a party in heaven. It states in
Matthew 5:44-45; “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” This reminded me of one of my mother’s favourite Bible quotes, during my childhood. Whenever I was feeling self righteous, and wanted to have the last word, which was often; my mom frequently settled disputes between my siblings and I by saying, “Kind words turneth away wrath.”
Finally brothers and sisters in Christ, I encourage you all to follow the examples of how Jesus handled criticism and managed conflicts; there is no doubt in my mind that our lives will be more peaceful and fulfilling.
– Barb Freeman