Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?” – Mark 8:17-18 (NRSV)
I can take criticism, even a searing critique, because I have an older brother.
Growing up, John was very adept at pointing out my foibles and flaws. I can count on two fingers the occasions he had anything positive to say about me. I later discovered that unrelenting criticism is a common feature of older sibs. That helped.
It makes me wonder if Jesus would have been less critical of others if he was not the firstborn child. Maybe he would have gotten less steamed up when people turned out to be petty, provincial, self-centered, and dim-witted; in other words when people turned out to be people.
Like an older sibling, Jesus had a knack for pointing out the faithlessness and failures of his disciples and of his kinfolk. In fact, the rare moments when Jesus expressed praise for someone’s faith, it happened to be people outside the Jewish family: a Roman centurion here, a Syrophoenician woman there. It could be more evidence of anti-Jewish bias in the Gospels or it could be good ole family dynamics writ large.
Whether or not it was Jesus’ intention, his persistent critiques steeled the disciples for the obstacles and objections they would face after his departure. It helped them acknowledge their failures and, perhaps, turn more readily to faith when they needed it most.
Lord, I don’t enjoy it, but loving, honest critique is one of the best gifts I am given. May I receive it well. Please help the writer remember that when he is criticized for this devotion.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first two books, The Spinner Prince and The Four Guardians are available now.