The gnats are crazy! When riding bike one needs to be sure to ride at a pace that doesn’t require breathing through your mouth. If you do ride with your mouth open, gasping for air, going through a swarm of gnats can feel like a complete meal, toothpick needed. Yuck!
As we weeded our gardens last weekend we were aware of the gnats but thought of them as only a nuisance, at least until they got in our eyes or when they were inhaled. Again, Yuck!
But that evening I realized my calves had actually been chewed on by those little critters. I had been their meal! They were not nearly the “nuisance” in the garden as they have become with itchy calves 24/7!
Gnats are small, seemingly insignificant, but they can have a major impact.
Jesus had a lot to say about gnats. Well, not literally; but he certainly had much to say about being aware of little things that can lead to much bigger issues and problems! Matthew 5 has a list of “gnats,” starting in the 21st verse of that chapter. He reminds his listeners and readers that it was said, “Don’t commit murder.” But Jesus said even being angry, which for many people is insignificant compared to murder. For most of us being angry is a gnat, not a problem.
Then Matthew lists other human tendencies we might think of as gnats: lust, divorce, being true to your word, thoughts or actions of revenge, selective loving. Jesus is wise enough to realize that a misspoken word or an unkind thought can be the foundation for broken relationships and distrust among the community or group of people.
For years we’ve instilled in even our youngest children that it is inappropriate to tell off-color ethnic jokes. We encourage people to look for the giftedness of every individual. We’ve ceased to look at the disabilities of people and sought to seek, value and develop whatever ability people have.
It seems we are being immunized of gnat-like behaviors and speech. When leaders speak disparagingly of people of other ethnicities, skin color, speech or culture, pretty soon it becomes approved by the culture. I’ve read that it doesn’t even take a majority to lower cultural norms; less that 40 percent of the population is needed to corrode previously established norms of civil behavior.
When I was a youngster it was not unusual to hear unfavorable comments about physical attributes of African-Americans. It is unlikely to hear such comments today, but isn’t a comment about “calves the size of cantaloupes” in the same derogatory genre of speech? That gnat has had a major negative impact on relationships in the American community.
That a major figure in America would, in 2018, speak despairingly of someone proud of ancestry, Native American no less, and making fun of the person by calling her a name, suggests the gnats have been quite aggressive. Further proof of the cumulative corrosive effect of those racist gnats is a crowd of fellow Americans cheering such unkind, uncivil, uncaring, unchristian speech.
I am hearing more and more people give up, say there’s nothing to be done, “that’s just the way it is.” When I hear that, I think of the disciples of Jesus, hungry, hot and tired after a day of following Jesus. They tell Jesus to send the crowds away so they, who are also hungry, hot and tired after a day of pursuing Jesus, can get something to eat. Jesus’ response needs to be a challenge in our ears: “You give them something to eat.”
The disciples had given up, they saw no way to make a difference in the lives of the gathered people, the spontaneous community that had taken shape. “We have nothing here to give them but five loaves and two fish.” The rest of the story is the “feeding of the 5,000 men plus women and children!” (Matthew 14:13-21) The disciples tried to evade responsibility for the community. If they could have, they would have left to find food for only themselves.
The disciples’ actions that time might remind us of the story of Bartimaeus, related in Mark 10. This person in need calls out and “many scolded him, telling him to be quiet. ...” But Jesus surprises everyone. “Call him forward!” Such stories are intended to compel each of us to keep a sharp eye and tuned ear toward the excluded, lives limited by circumstance, who beg for mercy.
Every one of us possess resources with which to address the gnats that currently plague the quality of life on this planet. We can work to make new community; or we can choose to make it difficult to bring people together; we have the ability to care for others or to send them away.
Each of us is making a choice every day. May we seek the way of Jesus, even if, and especially when, it is difficult.