Trash talking is apparently an art. Google it and you will find lists of the best trash talk lines of all time. It’s the pre-game/fight warmup designed to get an edge on your opponent. Most organized sports try to make sure that their players are careful not to say too much before the match and give the opposing team bulletin board material – a statement that will fire the opposite team up and give them more incentive. Trash talk can continue after the game and it becomes taunting. Most people see taunting as tasteless and unnecessary. The NFL has strict rules on what can become taunting and penalizes some actions as taunting. The lowest form of that is kicking a man when he’s down. That can happen literally or figuratively. It is, so I’ve heard, contrary to the unwritten rules of behavior to do that.
There’s a fine line between taunting after a victory and kicking a man when he’s down. In criminal cases where a major figure is caught in wrong doing and is taken on a perp walk, people flock to scream their hatred at the arrested person. It is a tradition that goes back in history. It goes back to the cross, if not farther. “In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ‘He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” (Mark 15:31-32)
It was a good thing for those who taunted Jesus that He didn’t do what they called on Him to do. They called for the impossible: they told Jesus to save Himself. They told Jesus to come down from the cross. Little did they know that He could have saved Himself. Little did they know that even on the cross, Jesus could have commanded an earthquake to swallow up those who stood there, taunting Him. How relieved were the chief priests, the Pharisees, and other religious leaders? They were so glad to see Jesus taken out that even though these were the High Holy days of Passover, they spent the day mocking Jesus. Taunting Him. Kicking Him while He was down. Little did they know that the death of Jesus on the cross would turn into God’s taunt against death! In today’s reading from Hosea we see God bringing redemption to His people where He asks death where its plagues are, and the grave where its destruction is. Paul quoted that taunt asking “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” Completely oblivious to what was happening, though, the crowd, even those being crucified at the same time as Jesus, continued their taunting, their mockery, their kicking Jesus while He was down.
What do we learn from this story. We shouldn’t taunt Jesus – is that the lesson? That would seem to be obvious for followers of Christ. We love Jesus. We’re grateful for His sacrifice for us. I would ask you then if it isn’t mocking the sacrifice of Jesus when we give people the impression that anything other than the mercy of God is needed to develop a relationship with God? That’s like saying, “Jesus died on the cross for your sins and if you believe that and get your life in order, God will love you.” It is only God’s mercy and grace that allows us to be in a relationship with Him. What about when we follow other gods? Oh, we don’t do that, of course. Oh really? Do you focus on material things? Do you look at a horoscope for guidance? Do you place anything, including church, between you and God? If so, you are worshiping a false god at a false altar. Today, focus on God in your life. Don’t be fooled by lesser imitations. Recognize His mercy and grace in your life and give yourself fully to God.
Oh Lord, it’s so hard to believe that all I need to do is put my trust in You. I keep wanting to do something else to solidify my salvation. Remind me that Jesus did all the work and paid the price.