Refuse to Play the Game
The chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Matthew 21:23
I’ve often been frustrated by my slow wit when it comes to sarcasm, put-downs, and the game of one-upmanship. I’m just not good at it, which means that when anyone insults me, I just stutter and say something like, You’re stupid, stupid. Later, when I’m alone, I come up with a perfect comeback, but then it’s too late, with only me being amused by my cleverness.
It’s amusing when it involves trading insults at the gym, but unfortunately, there are those toxic people in life who continually do whatever they can to manipulate, offend, condescend, and just be downright difficult. How do we handle those around us who make our lives miserable?
Jesus, in today’s passage, gave what I think is an appropriate response to toxic people. In the story, the chief priests attempted to manipulate Jesus, hoping to catch him in a trap of blasphemy. Who do you think you are? Jesus didn’t shy away from his divinity, but neither did he take their bait. He simply didn’t allow them any authority over him. I’m not going to answer your questions. I’m not going to play your games (my paraphrase). Jesus did exchange a few words, but in the end, he simply walked away. Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things (Matthew 21:27).
Often, we get drawn into conflict by those who thrive on it, and then we’re frustrated that we can’t win. The problem is, toxic people often don’t know they’re toxic, but they’re really good at it. Manipulation and misery just come naturally. If told they’re being manipulative, they won’t understand or believe it. You’re manipulative, not me.
It’s maddening to get drawn into an unwinnable contest. Jesus, by his mature example in today’s passage, seems to give us permission to simply avoid futility. The only way to win with some people, is to refuse to play the game. When we get sucked in, we give others power over us. Only in refusing to participate, do we avoid manipulation. We must refuse to be toxic ourselves and we must realize that sometimes, it’s OK to simply say, I’m not going to play. I’m just going to walk away.