There’s a short and unusual story of an interaction between Jesus and the disciples found in Mark 8:14-21. We spent some time reflecting on it this past week-end at our Spiritual Formation Retreat on Awareness. Here’s the Biblical text…
The disciples, much to their dismay, realize that they’ve only brought one loaf of bread with them for this journey by boat. Jesus then starts to talk about “the yeast of the Pharisees of and that of Herod”, warning them to watch out for it, whatever it might be. They started talking about it among themselves and came to the (not so brilliant) conclusion that Jesus was saying something about how they had failed to bring enough bread. They can’t seem to realize that Jesus is talking about something totally different. In fact, Jesus never gets to explain what He is trying to tell them because they are so focused on what they think He might be talking about that there is no space left to hear anything else.
Our starting points impact our end results. We often begin our interactions with God from a certain perspective or an understanding that limits our ability to comprehend and receive what God might want to say to us. Like the disciples it usually starts with something we have done wrong. We feel like we’ve messed up and let God down, the equivalent to the disciples jumping to the conclusion that Jesus was talking about their failure to bring enough bread. Or it my be a limited understanding of who God is and what He is like, flowing from things like failures of the church to clearly represent Jesus, or some past pain or hurt from someone we identified with church. We bring these “starting points” to all our interactions with God. It’s a perspective or bias that can shape what we hear, regardless of what God is trying to say.
This doesn’t just happen in our prayers, it’s a tendency that seems embedded in the human condition. Republicans have a starting perception of Democrats (and vice versa) that keeps them from hearing what the other is saying. Older generations sometimes have a starting point regarding what the “young people of today” are saying (and vice versa) that hinders true understanding between them. Christians have preconceived notions about people of other faiths (and vice versa) that build walls instead of facilitating deeper understanding. Men have a starting point in their relationships with women (and vice versa) that often makes it seem like the two are speaking a totally different language.
I find that all of these flow out of our broken ego and our feelings of inadequacy. We want to protect ourselves and to be “right” so we often assume (i.e. choose as a starting point) that the other wants to hurt us or contradict us. The disciples were so frustrated by their own failure to bring bread that they couldn’t see that their mistakes weren’t a problem for Jesus. He had proven over and over that providing bread was easy for Him. The same is true of us. We have to start from the place where God has enough love, mercy, and grace to deal with all our failures. That enables us to safely listen to what God might be saying instead trying to protect our own ego. My own theory is that the church has far too often stressed only the sin of humanity and neglected the grace of God that can cover that sin. As a result, people have overcorrected by refusing to entertain the truth of their own brokenness, despite the fact that we see it in ourselves every day. The starting point we need is to be able to acknowledge our weakness and failure, but realize that God’s love and forgiveness covers and transforms that. Once we come face to face with our sin, and then encounter the love of God at that dark corner of our hearts, our starting point becomes one of humble dependence on a God who loves us. Living from that starting point leads us to a radically different end result, not just for us, but for everyone around us. Our starting points impact our end results.