"What right do you have..."
"As Jesus was walking in the Temple, the chief priests, the teachers of the Law, and the elders came to him and asked him,
'What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you such right?'" (Mark 11:27-28)
Boom! Right in your face! Forgive me, I know it's a cannon, actually one from a civil war battlefield. I offer it not so much because it's a cannon but rather for the feel of the picture. Doesn't it give you sort of an, "in your face" feeling and almost make you want to recoil backwards from it? You know what I mean, don't you? Your moving along in a relationship or situation and then suddenly, almost out of the blue, someone lands the "in your face explosion" and you're left wondering, "Well now what do I say?" You can feel the sudden shift in the winds from the rational to the irrational. That's why there's that sense of, "What in the world just happened?" or "How do we move on from here?" or "Well, that's the end of that effort to communicate..."
I've learned to call this sort of posturing the offensive defense. It's a very aggressive form of defense, something akin to the bite of an injured dog offered when someone attempts to approach and help. The "in your face" response in a relationship often arises from a sense of fear on the part of the aggressor. Once it happens, it leaves us in about the same position as the one trying to help the injured dog -- we stop our efforts and reassess whether we can continue or just need to back away. "In your face" sort of comments and remarks tend to destroy relationships.
I'm convinced that on the day when the chief priests and others met Jesus in the Temple they had already heard enough about him to be frightened. He was rocking their boat and their world. When they met him, they weren't looking to dialogue and build relationship, they were looking to shut him down. "Who gave you such right" - i.e. - "There, in your face - take that - let's see you come back from that one! That'll shut you down!" --- (and then unspoken) "Then we'll be safe again." Fear, when shoved into the face of the other, is always dangerous for the relationship.
From the rest of the dialogue I gather that when Jesus responded it was not in kind. In other words, he didn't respond with, "Oh yeah, well here's one in your face. Right back at you!" His more thoughtful response required him to check the visceral emotions that "in your face" arouses in the one verbally slapped, pause for a moment, and respond from the rational instead of the irrational. In doing so Jesus actually offered the possibility for the chief priests and others to change course and build relationship. Obviously, they chose not to, but Jesus provided the possibility in the way that he responded.
I find it can be difficult not to respond in kind. When someone shoves their fear in my face and I recoil, feelings well up and make me want to protect myself. Sometimes I think it would feel so good to shove that fear right back into their face, but the results would not be pretty, productive, or grace-filled. It might feel good in the moment, but the results would be disastrous for the relationship. An "in your face" response on my part certainly would not be loving. Recognizing what just got shoved in my face ( fear) can help me pause and consider my next move. Then hopefully I can offer grace and the possibility for relationship to continue. Hopefully, I can respond to fear with love.
I pray that God will help me avoid shoving my fear into someone's face, and have the insight and discipline to offer grace when their fear gets shoved into mine. How about you?
Blessings and Peace,
Pastor, Sand Hill United Methodist Church
Boaz, West Virginia
Help save lives! For more information on my new book, "A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression," visit www.survivingteendepression.com.