The other day, my wife and I went to a seafood restaurant on the coast to enjoy some clam chowder and shrimp tacos. It’s a pretty casual restaurant, but nice enough that you wouldn’t, say, dump an entire bottle of hot sauce on the floor. But that’s exactly what the camo-clad little boy on the right goaded his little sister (not pictured) into doing. An entire bottle. On the floor.
Now, they’re just kids, and boys will be boys, and blah blah blah, but at exactly the moment where the parent should have stepped in and said, “YOU FREAKING CLEAN THAT UP RIGHT NOW!” the dad (and the woman who I presumed to be his girlfriend, as I saw no rings, and she was about 20 years younger than him and looked nothing like either of the two children) said exactly nothing and simply chuckled. And they continued to chuckle as one of the restaurant employees came out and made a meager attempt to clean up the mess.
This is where things get frustrating. The boy, who all along is yelling at a volume that I can only describe as “meal-ruining,” grabs his dads sunglasses (visible in his dad’s breast pocket in the image) and runs away with them. The dad, without taking his arm off of his lady friend, asks for the glasses back. The boy dangles them in front of his dad. Dad tries to grab them. Boy yanks them away. This continues ad nauseum until the boy demands payment for the safe return of the sunglasses. To my amazement and disgust, the dad reaches in his pocket, pulls out a wad of cash, fishes out a $1 bill, and offers it to his son in exchange for his glasses.
The dad paid his son to give him his sunglasses back.
Ok, first of all, let me acknowledge the fact that I am not a parent yet, and I’m certain I have a lot to learn about being a parent. But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t learn much from watching this dude.
Second of all, let me address a more theological issue: judgment. Jesus reminds us not to judge. I don’t have that whole thing worked out, and I’ve read a lot of poorly contrived (in my opinion) arguments concerning how Jesus really meant something other than, “Do not judge,” which does’t necessarily jive with the fact that, you know, Jesus says, “Do not judge.” But that is neither here nor there. The point is that I may very well be judging this man. I don’t know his situation. Maybe it’s a situation that, if I understood it, would cause me to look at him with pity and declare that he gets a “pass” in this situation. Maybe there is something so deep and underlying that it would completely turn my understanding of the situation upside down. I am fully open to that possibility. But as the situation sits, from my limited perspective, I am left with no reasonable option other than to question this guy’s ability as a parent and to be in fear for his children’s futures.
Ok, now let’s get spiritual:
The other day, during a student Bible study meeting, one of the students brought up the question of why Jesus often refused to perform miracles for some of the people who asked to see them (see especially Matthew 12:38-45 among other similar accounts). Why, we all wondered, did Jesus refuse an opportunity to make some sure converts out of these Pharisees. Surely if He had all the power of God, He could have made a little fire or turned dust into Skittles or something like that. But He didn’t. I asked my students if they could perform a miracle whether or not they would take the opportunity to make some insta-converts. We all agreed that we would. So what, exactly, was Jesus thinking here? Why keep people out of the Kingdom on account of their desire to see a little magic show?
After the meeting, my wife and I discussed it a bit. She reminded me of the family we had encountered at the seafood restaurant. How frustrating it was to watch the little boy demand some money in exchange for the sunglasses, and to watch the dad comply. There was no struggle, no dialogue, no challenge from father to son, no discussion on the nature of authority; nothing. Just pure frustrating power wielded by the son. My wife, brilliant as she is, said, “Both of us watched that situation and realized that the power in that family was completely inverted from how it ought to be. The kids call the shots. The parents were at their command. And we both knew instinctively that something was wrong.”
“What if,” she said, “this is what Jesus was trying to prevent by not performing tricks for people.”
Gotta love that lady I married. She completely blew that piece of Scripture wide open for me.
Imagine a Jesus who traveled the countryside performing parlor tricks. Every time someone says, “Hey Jesus, we’re running out of wine over here…wink wink…” Jesus brews up a batch (or whatever. I don’t know how wine is made). Or when someone says, “Hey Jesus, my cousin Barney doesn’t believe that you’re the real deal. Show him some magic to prove it!” and Jesus flicks his wrist and makes a bird turn into a roll of duct tape or something. When Jesus starts taking orders, the power is flipped around. Something is fundamentally backwards when Jesus starts kowtowing to our whims and demands. In a world where Jesus responds in the affirmative to our every desire, He begins to look a whole heckuvalot like this guy:
(And he only grants 3 wishes!)
Maybe a cool friend to have for a little while. But definitely not deserving of allegiance or worship. Hopefully this can help give us some perspective on why Jesus doesn’t always perform every miracle we ask of Him. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule about when Jesus will or won’t do something. But it makes you think about where the power lies. Eventually, as people who have a desire to follow Jesus, we have to develop a two-party hierarchy. Who’s the boss? One of us is going to be the leader, and the other is going to follow orders. And based on what I see in Scripture, Jesus doesn’t follow orders so well.
Just a thought.