Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Vicious Rumors"

Recently, I heard about a man who walked into Joe’s Barber Shop to get his regular haircut:
As he snips away, Joe asks "What's up?"
The man proceeds to explain he's taking a vacation to Rome.
"ROME?!" Joe says, "Why would you want to go there? It's a
crowded dirty city full of mafiosos! You'd be crazy to go to
Rome!... So how ya getting there?"
"We're taking TWA" the man replies.
"TWA?!" yells Joe. "They're a terrible airline. Their planes
are old, their flight attendants are ugly and they're always
late!... So where you staying in Rome?"
The man says "We'll be at the downtown International Marriot."
"That DUMP?!" says Joe. "That's the worst hotel in the city!
The rooms are small, the service is surly and slow and they're
overpriced!... So whatcha doing when you get there?"
The man says "We're going to go see the Vatican and hope to
see the Pope."
"HA! That's rich!" laughs Joe. "You and a million other people
trying to see him. He'll look the size of an ant. Boy, good luck
on THIS trip. You're going to need it!"
A month later, the man comes in for his regular haircut.
Joe says, "Well, how did that trip to Rome turn out? Betcha
TWA gave you the worst flight of your life!"
"No, quite the opposite" explained the man. "Not only were we
on time in one of their brand new planes, but it was full and
they bumped us up to first class. The food and wine were wonderful,
and I had a beautiful 28 year old flight attendant who waited on me
hand and foot!"
"Hmmm," Joe says, "Well, I bet the hotel was just like I described."
"No, quite the opposite! They'd just finished a $25 million
remodeling. It’s the finest hotel in Rome, now. They were overbooked,
so they apologized and gave us the Presidential suite for no extra
"Well," Joe mumbles, "I KNOW you didn't get to see the Pope!"
 "Actually, we were quite lucky. As we toured the Vatican, a Swiss guard tapped me on the shoulder and explained the Pope likes topersonally meet some of the visitors, and if I'd be so kind as tostep into this private room and wait, the Pope would personallygreet me. Sure enough, after 5 minutes the Pope walked through thedoor and shook my hand. I knelt down as he spoke a few words to me."
Impressed, Joe asks, "Tell me, please! What'd he say?"
"Oh, not much really. Just 'Where'd you get that awful haircut?'"[i]

Today’s scripture shares two things in common with that story: the importance of reputation, and an awful haircut. Reputation is important to us. For a barber, it can make the difference between a schedule full of haircuts and no haircuts at all. As we all know, good news travels fast but bad news travels faster. All it takes is one bad review (like the Pope’s) to ruin a lifetime of loyal customers. So we guard our reputations fiercely. Whether you’re a barber or anything else, it probably does matter to you what other people think. This is why it upsets us so much when vicious rumors begin to circulate.

In Acts 21, Paul visits the saints in Jerusalem, excited to tell Jesus’ half-brother, Pastor James, all about the conversion of the Gentiles on his many missionary journeys. While the church is excited to hear about the Gentile mission, some are worried that Paul has abandoned his Jewish roots. They are concerned that he is now teaching a rejection of Moses’ law. In chapter 15, we read how at the Jerusalem Council, the Jewish church decided to welcome Gentiles into the fold, only imposing on them the most basic of instructions. But now that the Gentiles are free from Moses’ law, the Jewish believers fear that Paul is teaching that the legal requirements don’t even apply to Jews anymore. This, of course, is a vicious rumor circulated by people who want to undermine Paul’s teaching. It doesn’t matter if it’s untrue—what matters is whether it’s believable.

As we all know, it doesn’t matter if a rumor is false; if enough people believe it, it can cause major destruction. This is why Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV) to “abstain from all appearance of evil.” It’s not just the appearance of evil that matters—but it’s also important how things look to other people, because misunderstanding can damage your witness.

In the following verses, Paul takes great pains to restore his reputation. He joins himself to a band of Nazarites, who have taken a vow similar to that of Samson in the Old Testament. The time of their vow has come to an end, and, along with these men, Paul allows his head to be ceremonially shaved. He has done this before (Acts 18:18), so it is no strange thing to him. But by recognizing one of the older traditions in Judaism, he confirms his statement that the Law of Moses is still valid for Jewish believers.

How far would you go to set your reputation straight? Paul didn’t need to get his head shaved, but he was willing to lose his locks in order to avoid offending people because of a misunderstanding. Paul writes in Romans 12:18 (NIV), “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This means being willing to go above and beyond to settle any quarrels based on confusion.

When you find vicious rumors flying about you, what do you do? Do you fight fire with fire and return insult for injury? Or do you bless instead of cursing your enemies? Do you go out of your way to make peace? Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12 ESV).” When you’ve been doing your best to honor God but rumors fly anyway, count yourself in good company, take off your hat, and get ready for a good shearing. Be ready to let your pride fall like so many hair clippings on the floor, all for the sake of peace.

[i] http://www.yuksrus.com/barber.html.  September 12, 2015.

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