Thursday, April 14, 2005

Misunderstanding the Context

Misunderstandings can be frustrating. Trying to make yourself understood so others will know exactly what you are saying can be taxing and tiring. Just ask parents. Often parents are so frustrated, that they are willing and ready to tell you about the challenges of raising children First there is the constant repetition of what to do or not to do, and when and why and where. And then, although parents often ask, " why did you do... " or "why didn't you do as you were told," the most common response is a shrugging of the shoulders, and an "I don't know" answer. If a parent were to probe, he or she may find that the child really didn't understand what was meant. Sure many children pretend not to understand so they won't have to be held accountable, but there are times when they "just didn't get it." Here's an example. A parent tells his 5 year old son, "don't get off the curb." However after 5 minutes the father has to repeat himself again, "don't get off the curb." Several reminders later, the boy asks, "dad what's a curb?" While the boy knew that he was prohibited from something, he didn't understand what that something was. Furthermore, in his case, the context of the statement was no help. If we were to ask any teenager in the USA, "what is the most frustrating thing about your parents?", many will immediately tell you “My parents don’t understand me.” What is the context here? Hormones and peer pressure.

If we were to ask many women what is frustrating about their relation with the men in their lives, they are likely to respond, "he just doesn't listen, and he doesn't 'get it' (understand)." Why? Perhaps the context in which the women are asking the men to understand them (as if they are women). Ask the elderly what they think about the young people of today, and they will fret, "I just don't understand them." What is the context in which this misunderstanding occurs? Age difference emphasized by a fast changing world. Ask a medical doctor, "what is the most frustrating thing about your patients, "s/he may respond that "many patients just don't get the importance instruction given, no matter how you stress the information." What is the context of the misunderstanding here? Many physicians think their patients want relief from physical ailments, however many patients want a listening ear more than medical advise. Well, I think you get the picture.

You know, many of us are speaking to or are trying to communicate with others who are not our age, or gender or even of a similar background, so you'd expect some misunderstandings to occur, right? Well how about the misunderstandings that occur even among those of us who speak the same dialect or language, and were even raised in the same culture? What is the culprit there? Perhaps poor listening habits are to blame, such as"selective listening." Maybe we are so attuned to what we want to say, that we are only partially listening to the speaker. That is, we are listening in order to respond, but not to understand. That could certainly lead to misunderstanding on our part. It could even lead to confusion on the part of the speaker as s/he struggles to understand how what we are saying relates to what was just said---hmmm. Last but not least, we might already have preconceived ideas about a topic being discussed, reservations about the person discussing it, and conflict feelings about the time we're spending listening to the person speak. All of these reasons may contribute to our misinterpreting, misunderstanding and misapplying what is said. These reasons are referred to as "white noise." White noise is Background interference that may even cause us to misrepresent the messenger to others.

Jesus was born and raised in Judah. As a Judean, He spoke the native language and understood the culture. He also understood the people. The people ,however, did not understand Him. What was the problem? Wasn't Jesus clear enough in telling them who He was, and what He came to do? No, that was not the case, for Jesus spoke in very simple language and communicated simple concepts in every day language, that even a child could understand. It is likely that those who loved Jesus, such as His followers, His disciples and His kin, misunderstood Him because the background noise of their expectations was too loud. The Hebrew leaders misunderstood His purpose because of envy, and all in all, most misunderstood His message and mission because they refused to listen to what He was saying. They selectively listened, and when they heard the beginning of what they feared (that they as a nation needed to repent), they closed their minds, and no longer listened to Him. Sometimes we don't hear because we simply don't want to.

The Scripture says that God’s ways are higher than ours and that spiritual things are spiritually understood. The people chose to listen to Jesus with their carnal minds, but Jesus spoke from the Spirit (I Cor. 11:16.) The carnal mind is at enmity with God, and with His law, therefore it cannot be subject to Him (Rom. 8:5-8). The result of having minds that hate God and His law, means that we will misinterpret Jesus' Words, just as the Hebrew leaders misunderstood Jesus. In other words, behind their misunderstanding was rebellion.

In the passages of Mark 2:23 through Mark 3:6, we find that the Pharisees and Jewish leaders misunderstood the Sabbath. Why? The Sabbath was part of the law, and with carnal minds, they hated the law, and the Son of God. As a nation, the Jews had often been in captivity to foreign powers as a result of their national Sabbath
breaking, and their worshipping of foreign gods. Because of this, the Hebrew leaders decided to create minute rules to keep the people from breaking God's laws. The leaders falsely reasoned that if the people would keep these rules, they would keep the law, and thus would avoid going into captivity again. But the Jewish leaders did not love the law as did David, instead they feared it because in pointing to their inability to keep it, condemned them. This fear of condemnation they hated and reviled, but both it and the desire for what they thought was their reward (national prominence) kept them going. Thus they hated Jesus with a perfect hatred for He drew the people to Himself as He pointed with joy to His Father. He said His Father worked and hitherto He worked (John 5:17), to restore the joy of true union and communion with God. By freeing the people from the yoke of fear of the second death as well as the yoke of self-serving hope for gain, Jesus embittered the leaders.

False pride made the Jewish leaders jealous and envious of anyone who made keeping the law look as though it were a pleasure, for they delighted in making salvation look painfully difficult. In contrast, Jesus made keeping the law look pleasant, and furthermore not only was He was joyful, so were others who accepted His words, and healing. Because the Pharisees saw keeping the law as the means to meet their self-serving ends, when Jesus did not conform, He became a lawbreaker. This is the reason Jesus said to them that "its legal to do Good on the Sabbath.” In their understanding, God was an angry being who needed appeasing. Therefore, they thought that God made man for the Sabbath --- that God created man to keep the law. How twisted was the truth in their minds.

With their carnal understanding, they attributed the work of God through Jesus to the power of Beelzebub. This was a serious charge. It was one that could cost them their eternal life. Again Jesus tried to present to them the true nature of Himself and of His kingdom's principles in Mark chapter 3:

Mark 3:23 And He called them unto Him, and said unto them in parables, How can
Satan cast out Satan?
Mark 3:24 And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
Mark 3:25 And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
Mark 3:26 And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand,
but hath an end.

He then warned them, in verse 28 and 29:

Mark 3:28 Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men,
and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme:
Mark 3:29 But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never
forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.

Having refused to receive Jesus' words, many, even those of His household, misunderstood his mission. Filled with earthly ideas, even Jesus' family members were concerned about their reputation. And as such, His brothers stated that He was mad, and sought to take Him home. The context of their misunderstanding was their cultural tradition as well as their age, for they were older than Jesus. Again, Jesus sought to teach His hearers that as the Son of Man, and the Son of God, not only were all human kind His brothers and His sisters, but that there was a special familial relationship between Himself and those who did the will of His heavenly Father.

The context of misunderstanding for the Jewish people was that God had taken on the humanity of man to save the inhabitants of the world. He had come to seek and save the lost. All His work was done in the context of seeking to save the lost. The context of many of our misunderstandings concerns the love of Christ. He not only
loves us unconditionally, took on human nature to identify with us, free us from sin, and unite us to Himself, He came to show us that the law is simply the means of leading us to Himself, and that abiding in Him means He fulfills its requirements in us. In the light of this, we are to receive the words of the scripture, listening eagerly, even attentively, staining to hear, understanding that what is communicated is from the lips of love.
Raul Diaz & Maria Greaves-Barnes
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