The shame of it all! Now I understand something of how the Pharisees felt every single time that they lost to Jesus. Their culture was different from ours. Any public event was an opportunity to win the respect of the crowd and gain honor. The easiest way to do that was to challenge somebody to a contest of wits. The first person who had no answer or response loses. They are publicly shamed. This contest of wits could be as simple as a conversation, or perhaps a well-worded question. To see what that looks like – take a glance at Matthew 22:
“Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians… “Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?..“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.”
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question… “Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God…” When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” …
If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Mark 11:18 has this to say: “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.”
The way we teach spiritual matters is totally different from the sort of back-and-forth dialogue in this and other passages. Generally, listeners are expected to be silent during the sermon, taking notes is usually o.k. Question and answer time is usually something done in private before or after the service. It would never be acceptable for a person to interrupt the sermon to test the teacher with a question about doctrine or application in this day and age. Neither is it a matter of honor to always have answer or a shame to be silenced before a crowd.
That’s to cover the context – that always having an answer was a matter of honor, to be silent or have no response is to be shamed. You’ll notice that in this exchange, Jesus’ opponents were all men of high standing. It was considered shameful for men and women to speak in public, particularly if they were not related. There’s an instance of a believer named Apollos who didn’t have all the facts. He taught what he knew, but he didn’t know it all. Had any man spoke up while he was publicly teaching to correct him, this would have been seen as a challenge to his honor. Had any woman spoke up while he was publicly teaching teachings to correct him it would have been seen as a deliberate attempt to shame him especially if she knew something he did not. For his lack of knowledge, he would have been shamed. That’s why the Bible records that Priscilla and Aquila taught him more accurately the truth in a private setting. It was done to protect the honor of everyone involved (women didn’t have honor of their own, but they were obligated to protect the honor of the men in their family). The fact that Priscilla is named shows her involvement and sets an example for how other women can teach men – in contexts that protect their honor. Which is probably why the verses about women being silent were so very strict. But it’s also why they don’t apply today. I sincerely doubt anybody wants to reinstate and honor/shame society given the problems we can see with them from an outsider’s perspective; but that’s the only way to apply many Bible verses literally.
But in this day and age, technology gives us a similar platform with which to interact with each other on spiritual matters. You can post comments, post replies to existing comments, up-vote a good comment or down-vote a bad comment. You can challenge everyone to defend their position or ask them to explain their beliefs more accurately. Your own language can either be amicable or antagonistic. So long as you can continue to respond to any question, you can win the respect of other regulars. But when you have nothing to say in your own defense, then you lose a little respect in their eyes. See, it’s not so different. But there’s something that is – being blocked.
I’ve been blocked. I can no longer explain my side nor defend my point of view or answer questions about it either way. Since I’ve been something of a devil’s advocate all along, they have put into place an easy way to ‘shame me’ by not allowing me to respond to existing comments or issue challenges about troublesome theology. Somebody can take a comment I posted like:
“I don’t agree.” and they can reply something like: “You’re just not a bible believer. What do you have to say for yourself?” and later on “You have nothing to say in your defense, do you? You don’t really know anything at all!” and after that “This person hasn’t responded to me in months, I’m pretty sure they realized that they can’t win so they disappeared. What a sore loser.” It bothers me more that any previous comments will quickly lose their weight because of it. After all, because I lost on an issue of modern interpretation then I must be wrong about different cultural interpretations or it’s historical interpretations or any other thing I’ve brought up, too.
As I said, now I know something of how the Pharisees felt. My honor has been challenged. I lost. I was publicly shamed. Now I’m seen as someone who ‘doesn’t know anything’ because technology does not permit me to speak in my own defense when I’ve been blocked. The difference is that I’m not looking for trouble. Honor and shame are a concept that doesn’t exist in this society in the same way. I know the difference between right and wrong. I know that it’s wrong that I’m not allowed to speak up in my own defense, but the right thing to do isn’t to create a new account with which to interact with that community. If they don’t want a resident devil’s advocate to challenge them to fix the holes in their theology, that’s their loss. It’ll just be that much easier for their theology to sink itself by it’s own inability to hold water. When that happens, I’ll be around to try to help rescue the ones who can’t swim. But I can’t promise that I won’t say, “I told you so!”