Have you ever been reduced to an embarrassed silence – the kind of silence that comes from a sense of shame, that comes from doing wrong and being found out, that comes from suddenly realizing that you have “shortcut” your best self?
For example, if Jesus knew what we were doing, would we be embarrassed? If Christ heard what we were saying, would we be ashamed? If Christ knew what we were thinking and feeling would we be red-faced and speechless? Be candid with yourself for just a moment. Have you ever been reduced to an embarrassing, shameful silence? I guess if the truth were known, we all have.
I’m thinking of a group of people engaged in a rather cruel gossip session, talking harshly and critically about another person, when suddenly that person walks unannounced into the room – and there is an awkward, embarrassed silence.
I’m thinking of some teenagers thumbing through some questionable literature, when suddenly Mother appears at the door – and there is an awkward, embarrassed silence.
I’m thinking of a group of men exchanging shady stories, when suddenly right in the middle of one of the stories – perhaps at the most profane moment – someone they respect and admire greatly walks up unexpectedly – again, an awkward, shameful silence.
I’m thinking of some office workers who are really loafing on the job, wasting valuable time, when suddenly the boss walks in quietly, quickly, abashedly – they slip back into their workplaces.
Do any of these sound at all familiar? Being caught like this can be a very agonizing experience. How well we know that!
When I was in the fourth grade at Southside Elementary School in Seneca, I had a “red-faced” moment like that which is still vivid and crystal clear in my memory. It happened in the school library.
As fourth-graders, we were being allowed more freedom in the library, and this particular day as I was browsing around, my eyes fell on a strange book title.
I couldn’t believe it – a book in the Southside school library with the unmentionable “four-letter word” in its title. Remember now that this was the early 1960s, and to see a four letter word in print back then was shocking indeed!
As I pulled the book off the shelf and examined it, I understood what had happened.
The real title of the book was Hello, the Boat, but somehow over the years the last letter in the word Hello (the o) had been rubbed out; and as a nine-year-old in the fourth grade, I thought it was hilarious – a four-letter word in the school library.
Snickering, I began to motion for my friends and class-mates to come over and share in this terrific scoop of mine. One-by-one they came and proudly I pointed out my discovery.
We were giggling and snickering, when suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard a question, “What have you boys found over here that is so interesting?”
We turned and looked up into the face of Mrs. Smart, the librarian, and we were reduced to an embarrassed silence-especially me, because I had started it, because I was holding the book, and because not only was Mrs. Smart the librarian at school she was also my Sunday School teacher at church!
I can remember the agony of that moment as if it were yesterday – my flushed face, my emotional pain, my embarrassment, and the feeling that Mrs. Smart was disappointed in me.
I was totally speechless. I had no defense, no excuse, no explanation. I had been found out, and was feeling the agony of being reduced to silence, the silence of shame.
Blow that up a bit, take it to a deeper level and you have something like what happened to the disciples in Capernaum that day as they traveled with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.
What were the disciples doing, saying, feeling that later came back to haunt them? What attitude were they expressing that later in the presence of Christ seemed so petty and so unworthy? What was it that reduced them to a shameful silence as they jockeyed for position in the kingdom?
First, they were reduced to silence by their ruthless pride. Now, of course, we know that there is a good kind of pride, a healthy pride.
It’s great to be proud of our children and our church and our heritage. It’s good to be proud of our school and our city and our nation.
It’s obvious that pride cam be a good quality in our lives. It only becomes a spiritual poison. That’s what was brewing in the disciple group that day.
Each disciple was saying in his own prideful way: “I’m going to get ahead, come what
may. If I have to elbow other people out of the way, then so be it!” Here it is, the picture of selfish, ruthless pride: and it is not a very pretty; and it is not a very pretty picture, is it?
I had a fascinating thought recently about that work ruthless. Ruthless – where did that word come from? I’m not sure, but here is an intriguing thought.
What if it came from the story of Ruth in the Old Testament? Remember Ruth. In the Hebrew Bible, she is the symbol of love and loyalty, thoughtfulness and faithfulness.
She is one who puts others before herself and expresses tender concern for Naomi, her mother-in-law. She is a beautiful example of humility.
Remember that it was Ruth who said those famous words: “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
In Ruth we see the epitome of loyalty to another, the symbol of unselfish love. To be ruth-less then must be the opposite of that.
To be ruth-less is to be “without the spirit of Ruth,” and that was the problem with the disciples that day as they quarreled over position!
They had forgotten their Bible. They had forgotten the spirit of Ruth. Their pride was ruth-less, and that was their problem. Maybe it is our problem too!
Deep down the disciples knew it. They knew that ruthless pride wouldn’t really fit in His kingdom; and that’s why when it was exposed, they were reduced to silence!
Second, they were silenced by their bitter self-centeredness. I guess those two things go hand in hand, don’t they: ruthless pride and bitter self-centeredness.
I once had a professor who said: “There is only one Sin” (with a capital letter). He would point out that there are lots of other sins that are manifestations of that one big sin, but “there is only one big Sin,” he would say.
Then he would pause for dramatic effect and say, “The one big Sin is idolatry, the worship of self rather than God, the sin of putting yourself and your wants ahead of God and his will.”
He would go on to show how the scarlet sins like hurting other people or lying or cheating or stealing were really symptoms of the larger Sin, idolatry, putting yourself before God and everybody else.
What do you think? Was my professor on target? Is our big problem that we want to worship self rather than God?
Let’s move beyond ruthless pride and self-centeredness so that we can really see God and others and relate to God and others in love!
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.