How many times have I experienced that reflex? The angry look, the sputtered epithet, the hand flailing back over the shoulder to launch” a broadside back in my direction?
The blue tract drifted to the curb in the soft noontime breeze. The young student who had hurled it so angrily seemed eager to flee the scene, perhaps a bit embarrassed by his own actions. He stood in the crosswalk, dangerously close to moving traffic, impatient for the light to change so he could make his getaway.
I called out, “I’d like to hear you articulate that more intelligently.” In response he darted another angry glance in my direction. Then he turned and stalked back to where I was standing on the sidewalk.
“I hate people proselytizing!” he exploded, gesturing with an open, upraised hand. The hand was trembling.
“Well, what is it that makes you so angry about people voicing an issue?” I asked.
“You push that stuff down people’s throats!” he said.
I’ve heard that so many times that I’m beginning to think it’s rehearsed. I challenged the young man over the truth of that charge, and when we had reviewed my method of literature distribution, he conceded that he easily could have refused the broadside. Our literature is only offered to any takers. No one is obligated to accept it.
“So, what is it that has you so angry?” I asked again.
He hefted his book bag on his shoulder, readjusting the weight as he pondered my question. I gathered that this was a thoughtful Jewish student who was troubled by his own reaction. But he was courageous enough to grapple with a stranger and with a topic that he’d been taught to consider taboo.
After a moment’s consideration, he conceded, “O. K. You have a right to be out here, like anybody else. I just don’t like people spreading their religion.”
I assured him that he didn’t have to listen to me or to anyone else who was vying for his attention. As a Jew, I just wanted people to know that the Messiah had come. But why should that make him angry?
“Does the term Jews for Jesus offend you because you dislike Jewish people?” I asked with an obvious tongue-in-cheek tone. He laughed softly, and the ice was broken as his anger dissolved into a thoughtful conversation.
“Maybe you have reason to dislike Jesus?”
“No,” came back his reply, “Jesus said and taught some wonderful things.” We both conceded that there have been some atrocious things done in his name as well, but that doesn’t mean Jesus initiated or approved of them.
Wondering what things done and said by Jesus had touched the young man’s life, I pressed closer to the truth because he was letting me. “Why did you react so angrily?” I asked.
“I just can’t believe that he was the Son of God, or the Messiah,” he said.
“O.K.,” I thought, “but does he become enraged by everything he doesn’t understand? No. Perhaps he really cares about this issue.”
“But the Scriptures give evidence to support his claim of messiahship,” I offered.
“I’d have to see that for myself,” he responded. “Can you show me where it says in the Bible that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah?”
I was almost afraid to go on. How often I’ve seen the angry reaction to the proclamation of Jesus. How I hope to get past that emotional barrier erected as a defense against the inconvenient truth of the gospel. I knew that the young man cared. The issue of Christ actually mattered to him. His angry reaction was prompted simply because this was a living issue for him. Who could know what work God had already done in his heart?
I was afraid because I didn’t want to find out that I was wrong about him, but I pressed on. “Well,” I offered, “I could send you some literature—another pamphlet with more specific information. But you’d have to give me your address—and your name.”
I prepared my heart for disappointment. He would probably decline my offer and retreat to “safety” in tradition and the status quo. Why should he risk exposing himself to what he had been defending himself against until now? Hang the truth! I had encountered that response before.
“My name is ______. Do you want to write this down?” He went on to give me his address where I could send him something more—more about Jesus.
Yes, I’ve seen the anger reflex before. And I’ve also seen the power of God at work in the hearts of strangers. I’ve seen the Spirit of God at work in people’s lives. I’m a missionary, and what an adventure that is!