Posted on March 5, 2014
#44: Knowing When to Walk Away
Some time ago, a friend confronted me. The uncomfortable exchange ended badly. I couldn’t persuade her that she’d misunderstood a situation. Hours, days, weeks later, I was still going over the conversation in my mind, wondering what more I could have said. I’d find myself thinking about her at odd moments, wishing the outcome had been better. Attempts to contact her were rebuffed. Sadly, I reached a point where I had to let it go, to walk away.
Did Jesus ever face that type of situation? What can we learn from His example? Welcome to Knowing Jesus, our study of Jesus’ life through Mark’s gospel.
Read Mark 8:11-13. Then read Matthew 16:1-4 for a different view.
After the Feeding of the Four Thousand, the Pharisees came to Jesus again. They’d apparently witnessed the miraculous feeding, and had possibly tasted the bread and fish. They’d seen other miracles too. But they weren’t impressed. Mark bluntly states that they came to “test” or “tempt” Jesus.
The word for test/tempt is exactly the same word used in Matthew 4:1 when satan tested/tempted Jesus in the wilderness (see post #4: Trial in the Wilderness, in this series). These Pharisees were the mouthpiece but satan was the real tempter standing before Jesus that day. He was unrelenting, applying intense pressure, hoping to catch Jesus in a weak moment.
The Pharisees demanded a semeion, a sign from heaven—essentially dismissing all of Jesus’ other miracles (dynameis, signs of power) as mere slight of hand. Exactly what did they want Him to do? They weren’t specific because in truth they didn’t want Him to do anything. Nothing would have changed them. As Matthew Henry wrote, “They demanded this sign, tempting Him, not in hopes that He would give it to them, that they might be satisfied, but in hopes that He would not, that they might imagine themselves to have a pretense for their infidelity.”
Jesus sighed deeply, frustrated and disappointed at their stubborn, hard hearts. “No sign will be given you except the sign of Jonah,” he told them. Matthew helps us understand His response: “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except for the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Mt. 12:39-40)
Jesus was right. The greatest semeion ever would be His resurrection. But rather than being convinced by it, the Jewish leaders would work to cover it up (Mt. 28:2-4, 11-15). Several years later, the apostle Paul would note that they were still looking for a sign, a semeion (1 Corinthians 1:22). Men who refuse to see truth will never be persuaded.
In Mark 6:11, Jesus had instructed His interning disciples, “If any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave. . .” That’s precisely what Jesus did with these unbelieving Pharisees. He walked away. So ended Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee. When He climbed into the boat and sailed away, He would never return to minister there again.
The confrontation stayed on His mind though. Several hours later, He warned the Twelve, “Be careful. Watch out for the yeast [corrupting influence] of the Pharisees. . .” It’s not easy to walk away. It wasn’t for Jesus, and it’s not for us.
So how do we know when to shake off the dust? Here are a few indicators.
When several encounters have the same outcome, forcing us to conclude that change is not going to come. We hate stalemates. We go back again and again hoping for a resolution. Jesus knew there were times when resolution wasn’t possible. We must understand it too.
When the fallout begins to threaten us and those closest to us. Exhaustion and stress may make us hard to live with, impacting our marriage, other friendships, or our relationship with the Lord. Negative influences may begin to sway the thinking of others we love (hence, Jesus’ warning to the Twelve to beware the influence of the Pharisees). Sometimes, we need to prayerfully cut our losses and move on.
When spending time and energy on that relationship keeps us from focusing on more productive things. Jesus had other fish to fry, so to speak—other people to teach, other more receptive areas in which to focus His attention. We, too, have others who need us, who deserve our best efforts. We’re wrong to cheat them by expending all our energy on a dead cause.
It’s hard to walk away, to shake off the dust. But at times, it’s the best service we can offer to God, to those we love, and to ourselves.
What do you think?
Have you ever had to shake off the dust? How did you determine when to walk away? Do you feel at peace about your decision?
© Diane McLoud 2014