One of the benefits of ‘growing up’ is that we acquire some level of wisdom. Not to be confused with intelligence, wisdom is based on experience. Wisdom teaches us to recognize all sorts of danger. Wisdom is why we don’t ‘go running into unknown places’ unless we are being chased. Even then, wisdom has shown us that being chased is a greater danger than the unknown path upon which we run. Wisdom has taught me one unique blessing. Unreasonable people are unreasonable.
There comes a time when our dialogue with those who disagree with us becomes nonproductive. It isn’t for lack of desire on our part, but the lack of desire on the part of others. Of course, we should never eliminate the possibility that we are the one who do not desire productivity in our dialogue. We should always look first at ourselves before we presume the poor intentions of others. That being said, today’s blog is about how we dialogue our faith with unreasonable people. Take a moment and read today’s Gospel lesson.
The Lord said, “To what shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market place and calling to one another, ‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” – Luke 7.31-35
We begin with the point that Jesus likened us to children playing games. He means that we are not really wanting to play like mature adults. Instead, we accuse each other like little children playing in the school yard. “Neener neener neener.” How often has our dialogue with others taken this sort of turn? When it does, we are no longer being productive, but just arguing. There is no wisdom in arguing just to argue.
In his book “On the Holy Spirit,” St Basil said we should not engage with people who ask questions just to argue, because they are not seeking the truth. We get this point clearly in today’s Gospel lesson. Christ challenged the crowd because they complained when John the Baptist refused to eat and drink, and then complained when Jesus ate and drank. We know from other verses in the Gospels that this was the regular accusation of the Pharisees against Christ. Does that mean they didn’t really want to engage in dialogue? Were they just arguing to argue, or were they just set in their ways with no intention of changing their position? None of these options gain wisdom.
What should we do when we encounter such people? First, as I mentioned above, we should consider if WE are the ones being unreasonable. If we can honestly eliminate that possibility, then I suggest we give anyone a chance to prove they are seeking the truth, instead of just arguing. We can normally tell after a few jabs back and forth. If we answer honestly their questions, and they persist to respond with jabs, it has become obvious we are not engaged in genuine dialogue.
It should go without saying that we should always, even with unreasonable people, engage with love and respect. When discussing our faith, how we engage with others not only affects how they view the Gospel message, but it also affects our salvation. Are we being belligerent? Then, God will hold us accountable. Are we merely chanting like little children in the school yard? Then chances are we are neither gaining nor sharing wisdom. When we encounter such unreasonable people, I encourage you to consider they cannot be reasoned with, by definition. That’s why we call them unreasonable people. Don’t engage them further.