2 Samuel 12:1-13;
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This area of confrontation as part of discipleship isn’t my “go-to.” I recognize the need for it, the benefit of it, but still kind of resist it—actually I pretty much avoid it if possible. I don’t always confront very well for some reason. On those occasions when I get past my avoidance and actually confront someone when I think it’s necessary, I usually come off like a bulldozer—very little tact or sensitivity. And I usually end up causing resentment, anger, and an injured relationship, which is the opposite of what I hope will happen. That, then, reinforces my avoidance of confrontation and the cycle starts all over.
On the other hand, I’ve seen confrontation as harassment or abuse. It can be used by people to judge, to condemn, and to self-justify. Sometimes people who are really good at confrontation use it to intimidate others in an effort to prop themselves up above someone they feel to be weaker. They use confrontation as a weapon, as nothing more than a bully tactic.
But why is this really hard topic an issue of discipleship? We need to take a look at the texts today for help with that.
The setting for the 2 Samuel text is King David’s attempt to cover up a murder for which he was responsible. He ordered the husband of his mistress into the heat of a battle in order to get him killed. It worked. He got away with it. No one’s the wiser.
Except for the prophet Nathan who knew what had happened. In this text he confronts David using a parable of a poor man whose beloved lamb is stolen by a rich man—the injustice of this. “What should happen to that rich man?” asks Nathan. “He deserves to die,” answers the king. “You are that man!” Nathan exclaims.
The result is that David acknowledges his sin and provides one of the greatest repentance stories in all of scripture. Read Psalm 51.
Confronting David led him to repentance, which made him a better king—both in God’s eyes and in the eyes of Israel.
The other text from Galatians is a bit different. Fairly recently some parts of the Church have begun including—even baptizing—Gentiles. For the first time non-Jews are being welcomed as equal disciples of Jesus. For us no big deal. For them, this was a seismic shift in thinking. It was incredibly controversial. As is often still the case, some of the outlying congregations were adopting this practice of equal inclusivity more readily than the orthodox “mother church” in Jerusalem. So the church was divided over this issue.
Now Peter had had this dream (cf. Acts 10) about eating unclean food because God had said that if God makes it clean, it’s clean. So when Peter (Cephas) came to Antioch, he participated in these inclusive meals and worship times with Jews and Gentiles together. He even ate at Gentile tables with Gentile food, which was forbidden by the orthodox Jewish church in Jerusalem. So the church in Jerusalem sent some people up to Antioch to check, and Peter backed down.
Now, a lot of scholars believe Peter removed himself from the Gentile meals to help keep peace in the church. He didn’t want to promote a division over a small issue like meals, so he sided with Jerusalem.
Keeping peace isn’t bad, is it? Keeping the church from splitting isn’t bad, is it? It’s easier to back out of these common meals and keep the churches happier, right? Especially those who are in power.
There was more at stake that keeping people happy. An issue of the gospel was actually at stake here. If Peter sides with the powerful church in Jerusalem, he is in essence saying that the Gentiles—whom Peter acknowledges that God was including—didn’t matter. They were essentially second-class citizens whose inclusion wasn’t as important as the approval of the Jerusalem church. Peter sold out the gospel because it was easier. He ignored God’s inclusion to keep more powerful people happy. His actions revealed that he felt God’s inclusion of the Gentiles wasn’t worth a conflict.
Can you imagine if someone of Peter’s importance said you weren’t worth standing up for?
So Paul confronts Peter, and does so publicly. This was an act of discipleship on Paul’s part because God’s vision for the church was at stake. If God includes people as Peter had argued before, then they are worth standing up for. They are worth including. They are worth risking a conflict. They are worth confronting the orthodox powers that be.
In the case of Nathan, confronting David made him a better king—thus helping Israel to better reveal the ethical nature of God to the nations.
In the case of Paul, confronting Peter helped the church to better reveal the inclusive nature of God to the nations.
Jesus certainly confronted people—but always regarding their opposition to the reign of God. Confrontation is discipleship when it points out a barrier to something God is doing. Confrontation is discipleship when it can pave the way for God’s reign of love and compassion and inclusion to be revealed more fully.
It’s worth thinking about: what is God doing here and now in our lives, in our church, in our culture? What’s in the way of that happening? Disciples of Jesus are called to point out those obstacles and confront those who support those obstacles. For the sake of the reign of God.
What are those hindrances, those obstacles, those things and people that need to be confronted for God’s sake? How can we best do that? Come back Wednesday and we’ll talk about that.