In this time of microtargeted advertisements and affinity communities on Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy to feel morally superior, as if we are right and everyone else is wrong. I was struck by this recently when meeting friends and colleagues at a café. One attendee was holding forth loudly about his political beliefs and mocking anyone who disagreed with him. Comments I overheard from the surrounding tables after our meeting broke up suggested that his ideas were less popular than he might have imagined.
Mocking those with whom we disagree is a dangerous habit that Scripture repeatedly warns us about. For example: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2a; New International Version).
The way of blessing is in loving and meditating on God’s law rather than emulating the wicked, the sinners and the mockers. Mockery robs our fellow children of God of their dignity and worth. Lutsim, the Hebrew word translated here as “mockers,” means something like “those who contort their faces” (as if trying to pronounce a difficult foreign word). You can just imagine someone sneering and contorting his face while mocking what someone else has said. The verb form of this word can also mean “to speak arrogantly,” and mockery is the height of arrogance: my thoughts are so superior to yours that I don’t even need to take you seriously or address you with respect.
The warning can be read in this week’s passage from Jeremiah, who cautions us that trusting in humans is like being a cursed bush in a parched, salty, deserted wasteland (17:5-6). Trusting in the LORD to defend us (even when we are the ones being mocked) is like being a tree planted beside ever-present streams (17:7-8).
The way of blessing is in loving and meditating on God’s law rather than emulating the wicked, the sinners and the mockers.
Jesus takes up this warning against mockery in the Gospel of Luke by addressing the victims of such treatment. We know there will be those who mock others. But just as the poor, the hungry and the mournful are blessed, so, too, are the excluded and the insulted (Luke 6:22). Instead, Jesus promises woe to those of whom everyone speaks well (Luke 6:26). He justifies these pronouncements by explaining that this is how wicked people responded to true and false prophets respectively. We should not wish to be adored like prophets who tell soothing lies in God’s name. Neither should we emulate those who heaped praise upon false prophets while mocking and ridiculing those who revealed God’s true heart.
The Scripture readings from this week note the dangers of a moral failing engaged in all too frequently by me and many of my friends. Mocking others, even when their ideas are horrible or contrary to God’s heart for the world, is impermissible. As Lutheran Christians, we need to be especially careful about this. Crude mockery was a frequent tactic of Martin Luther against those who disagreed with him, and we are steeped in this tradition. We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), not in arrogance.
By all means, argue for what is right. Jesus charges us with spreading the love and truth of God’s kingdom. But we need to do the even more difficult work of spreading love and truth both lovingly and truthfully. For Christians, the medium is the message. If we mock, degrade and dehumanize those for whom Jesus died, are we serving the kingdom of heaven or our own in-group identities? Even when we disagree passionately, let us do so with humility, acknowledging that we didn’t always know what we know now and that we continue to learn and grow. Mockery and arrogant talk should have no place in the mouths (or social media) of Christians.