Difficult People, Pastor Fred
DEALING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE. That was the title of a flyer, for a continuing education.
“This workshop,” it read, “is designed to provide strategies for co-existing with impossible people. Nine specific kinds of difficult people will be defined, but the emphasis will be on ‘coping methods,’ for ‘dealing’ with each. And they listed the 9 types: Super-agreeable’s, Indecisive Stallers, Negativists, Complainers, Know-it-alls, Silent unresponsive clams, Sherman tanks, Snipers, and Manipulators. If any of these types are causing you problems, come to DEALING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE!”
We smile/laugh, because we know, all these people. We probably even ARE some of them! But what I really wish, is that we could find out what Luke says about these difficult people, from the point of view of Jesus’ words today, about loving our enemies, and then, what that has to do with telling the good news in our communities.
How do we deal with the difficult people in our lives? When Luke was reporting Jesus words in his Sermon on the Plain, he was talking about a really specific problem between Christians, and non-Christians. About Christians, a new group, outliers, trying to live in a whole new system called, the Realm of God here on earth. And the non-Christians, who lived in the, ‘eye for an eye;’ ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,’ kind of a system. Christians – a minority group at the time, not even a legal religion yet – were being abused, because their stance challenged non-Christians.
Our difficult people today, crop up in lots of different places. In our own families. Among our co-workers, or schoolmates. In our faith community. And with people we have authority over, or people who boss us. How do we deal with these difficult people – the Sherman tanks and the snipers, the manipulators and the silent unresponsive clams – the ones who are in a position to hurt us and make our lives miserable? Jesus doesn't have any fancy names for them, but pinpoints them as the ones who, hate us. The ones who, curse us out. The ones who, abuse us, physically and verbally. The ones who steal from us, put the pressure on us by begging, or cheating, and connive us out of things we don't want to give. The ungrateful, the wicked. The ones who judge and condemn us.
I’m interested to know, what the workshop leader’s advice is on ‘co-existing’ with, ‘dealing’ with, and ‘coping’ with, these people. It would be interesting to see if there really is a way to win?! To get your way with them? To get them to stop bugging you?! To cope with your feelings of dislike, and fear, and hatred, that they bring out in you, every time you have to face them. Because what Jesus suggests is fairly radical. And actually – I don't think that what Jesus suggests, will help us win, or get ahead, or even really, deal with these people. What Jesus suggests, is that we don't even get involved with the game, as it is defined. Jesus says to those of us who have come to listen: don't retaliate. Don't participate!
Because we are made, children of God, and given the unique gifts of our own precious selves, loved by God – Jesus doesn't say, continue to let others sin against your spirit, and your body, in the things that matter. Just because we don't retaliate, don't return evil for evil, doesn't mean to say we ought to hang around and get beaten up. Sometimes, not retaliating, not participating, means, not staying around. Walking away!
Sometimes it means turning the other cheek. Can you imagine the audacity of doing that? Beyond our general human resistance to situations of pain and discomfort – Can you imagine the effect of the surprise, of seeing the person you have just hurt, not angrily strike-back, or walk away crying, but instead silently offering that other cheek, or the shirt off their back?
But the important point is this, I think, no matter how it is accomplished – We can stop the never-ending cycle of oppression, hurt, greed, violence, only by refusing to participate in it.
Retaliation, winning, repaying evil for evil, doesn't stop the hurt. Neither does allowing yourself to betray the preciousness, of the gift God has given you, of your own self, stop the hurt.
By refusing to participate in escalating the cycle of hate, thru getting-back, or setting things up to get your way – playing the, you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours – then the game is over, because you aren't playing it.
Jesus offers another way, a way of life that will stop the hurt – in which treating others with mutuality, realizing that we are all dependent on one another as children of God, working together as partners, being merciful, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you – will stop the hurt.
In this system – the Christ-like way – we treat others with the kind of love and respect that we have learned from God, in Jesus, who first loved us. We don't help out, only when we have something to gain from it, because that isn't really help, as Jesus sees it. In the Christian system, where it always seems like “nice guys finish last,” Jesus reminds us that it will be God that takes the measure, of the worth of our lives. People may try to take our human dignity away from us, but since it is God who gives us, the preciousness of our own unique selves, that is something they cannot take away. When we do unto others, we may not get back from them what we deserve, we may not get back the lovingkindness we have given. But God will give us the measure we get back – and we know how abundant God has been, with the grace given to us, in Jesus!
In the Christian system, the radical way of dealing with impossible people that Jesus shares with us today, we can take risks in our relationships – go out on that shaky limb, that ‘loving your enemies’ takes you out on. Because God will take care of others and give them their due, and because God will also care for us, we can take the risk to love even those who hate and hurt us.
There are a couple of reasons why this is a good way to live. Luke, being a healer, a Physician, would be especially concerned that we know that, loving is more healthy than hating, and spending all your time thinking of ways to get back. Kim always reminds me of the parishioner in the nursing home we had in Michigan, whose husband had left her with four young children during the Depression, and 60 years later, she spent her days in her room thinking about the cruelest things she could say to him if he would just walk in that door! There is nothing more sickening –literally- than hating someone. There's also a healthy freedom in realizing that our worth is not measured by the opinions of our detractors, but only by the gracious gift of love and forgiveness promised us, in Christ Jesus. Knowing that it's all a gift of God, we can take the risk to let go of our rage, and anger, and need to strike back.
Have you ever prayed for those who have hurt you? You just can't feel the same sense of hatred for them again. It changes your relationship already, just to put them in God's hands, to let God measure and ‘deal’ with the possible change.
I try to imagine what it would look like if we could live the life that Jesus portrays for us in this gospel today. What would our communities and neighborhoods look like, if we tried to, love them? Pray for them? Do good to them? What if we refused to play the game, and walked away and refused to participate? What if we said, “No, I am a beloved child of God, and you will not hurt me that way.” What if we silently turned the other cheek to our tormentors and confronted them with the pain, their abuse of us, is causing? What if we left the judging and measuring, up to God, and started giving, with no thought to what we might get out of it, other than the pleasure of sharing our gifts?
I think people would start to notice! I think things would change! I think the good news of relationships built on mutuality, instead of someone being on top; of abundant gifts given by God and not earned by our own smarts; the good news of being called children of the most high, would start spreading like wildfire! I think other people would ask us how we can be so strong, how we can let things go, and leave hurt and hatred behind.
We can be part of bringing-in that new system, that new way of being, that we call the realm and kingdom of God. It can be difficult to leave behind, our thoughts of striking-back. It's hard to expect, nothing in return.
But there are good reasons to try. Our own health and wholeness. And the example we set for others. But the best reason of all is this:
that Jesus, in his love for us in coming to earth, dying, and rising again,
asks us, to be this way in the world.