Who here is a fan of kitchen tools? I can pick on Kevin for his addiction to them because he can’t be here today. Here is a bag of kitchen tools he has bought recently - to be fair, he uses (most of) what he buys. He’s gotten into cooking meat in different ways recently, so there’s been a lot of knife-buying.
This particular one is a shield for when using the crazy knives. Because knives are dangerous! I haven’t really mastered using this shield while cutting veggies, but I see it’s point! All of these knives came with instructions, too, because someone can really get hurt if they’re used improperly.
Knives have a very good and specific purpose - mainly, cutting something in two. The same goes for rebukes - expressions of disapproval or criticism. They have a specific purpose - mainly, correcting someone’s actions. Knives aren’t the right tool to use for eating cereal; rebukes aren’t always the right tool to use to show disapproval or needed correction.
Knives also aren’t to be handled foolishly or without care. The same goes for rebukes. They shouldn’t be handled foolishly or without care. Otherwise, someone will get hurt. With rebukes, there may not be literal bloodshed, but it may very much hurt the same.
I am sure we have all had bad experiences with rebukes - whether we were the one offering a correction or the one receiving a correction.
Perhaps the rebuke wasn’t delivered wisely. Perhaps the rebuke was the wrong tool. It might have been at work or at home. Being told that you are wrong or that you have disappointed someone (or vice versa) can be really hurtful, when done poorly or foolishly.
When first reading this passage, the image that came to mind were protestors at PRIDE events. I’m proud to say LCCC has been at PRIDE now a few years and Benita is heading efforts for 2020 PRIDE...and for any of you that have been at PRIDE events, you know there are also often protestors outside the area. They have posters and words that try to convey a strong disapproval of anyone living outside a male/female, gender normative relationship or life.
I don’t agree with the protestors’ message, but they do have a legal right to be there. Their message and presence often feels like the “mocker” referenced here in Scripture, and I don’t think the most productive response is to rebuke them with the same aggression with which they protest. They are not in a position to want to hear a correction and, as The Message puts it, perhaps this is a situation where we should “save our breath.”
I hope we have all had a good experience with rebukes. One of the best experiences I have had with a rebuke was when I was on the receiving end of a correction that my college friend Chris brought to my attention. He asked to come over one evening because he had something he needed to talk with me about. It was a busy week, so we figured out a window of time. Within minutes of him coming into the apartment, he sat on the couch and said “I need to give you a kick in the face. With love.” ummm...ok
He proceeded to tell me how he had been really disappointed with our friendship recently because I was overscheduling my time and that time didn’t include friend time. He was totally right. I was in my first full time ministry job as a Christian Ed/youth Director, working most days in the evening as a math tutor, on a volunteer board for the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, trading hours cleaning horse stalls for ride time, and some other things. I wasn’t leaving a lot of time for friends. And he called me out on it. With love.
In our conversation he explained how he (and some other friends) missed me...he said he understood the struggle with scheduling...and that this minimal time wasn’t acceptable long term.
It was a good rebuke. The difference between the PRIDE example and the story of Chris speaking with me is that Chris and I had an established relationship, it was said with love, there was no power/hierarchy struggle or “I’m better than you” attitude. We talked it all through. We made a plan to see each other more.
Today’s Scripture is about knowing when and how to have a good rebuke. Knowing when to use the knife and how to use it properly. It makes sense when you read it intently...basically saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. It’s instructing the reader to be wise about offering corrections...knowing that you can’t make another person see the wrong they’re doing AND we shouldn’t be so arrogant to where we can’t see the wrong we’re doing.
Everything in Proverbs is about teaching wisdom, particularly practicing wisdom through humility. If we are operating out of humility, there won’t be a power struggle or “I’m better than you” approach, even if you are the boss and you’re speaking with an employee. If we are operating out of humility, we won’t think that we know best and are outside the possibility of a rebuke. If we are operating out of humility, then we won’t get into a screaming match, only waiting to get our point thrown into the conversation so we can prove we’re right.
So, when do we speak up? Simply because our words may not be welcomed, does that mean we stay silent? Do we not confront injustices that we see? Absolutely not!
I think it’s wise to hear these words of Proverbs while thinking of the ways Jesus interacted with the world and exercised this wisdom.
I think about Jesus confronting the money changers at the Temple. He absolutely named the wrong that he saw. And I think about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. As the soldiers came to arrest him and essentially lead him to his death, he told those around him to put down their swords. It seems that in one instance he is boldly confronting a wrong and in another acting passively.
We don’t know all that happened in those situations and all that Jesus had been thinking, but I would say that Jesus was boldly confronting and rebuking in both situations - and doing so wisely - likely hoping that those around him would be wise to take heed. In the first instance, he was confronting unethical money handling at the Temple. In the second instance, he was confronting the use of physical violence. He was wise to approach each situation uniquely.
How do we know when and how to confront injustices or wrongdoings? How do we know when to walk by the scoffers or when to offer a correction?
For instance, the holidays are fast approaching, and with those holidays come family dinners, and with those family dinners can come some awkward moments. Some awkward moments and then some downright hurtful moments. More than one of you have mentioned this to me lately and asked “do I speak up...when conversations are hateful? when my partner isn’t accepted at the table? Do I speak up?”
Yes. No. Maybe. (Great answer, right? Though, If someone isn’t welcomed at the table, I would speak up.) Think through any situation...is there humility present? is there a willingness to listen? Do you have an established relationship of respect and love? Is someone actually in danger? Are you wanting to speak up only to pick a fight or are you wanting to speak up for the love that God teaches us? All of these factors make each situation unique. All of these factors determine if you turn over a table (like Jesus did at the Temple) or you tell people to put down their swords (like in the garden). Both are confronting and, yet, are done in very different ways.
If you find yourself in this situation, literally, as you’re looking at the plate serving - think “is this a moment to use a knife or a spoon or a fork?!” If it is a time to use a knife, I pray we all do so properly - with love, wisdom, and humility.
Scripture: Proverbs 9:7-9