Every culture has its own unspoken rules of behavior. To violate those rules will bring embarrassment or even shame.
Today, as I was picking up a few things from the grocery store, a man in his thirties passed me. He could’ve been anyone’s brother or son but he apparently wanted none of that. His unkempt beard (long and stringy) and severe expression projected a signal, which I chose to interpret: “I am who I am, as I choose; you wanta make something of it?”
Then I looked at him more closely. What caught my attention was his jersey. Emblazoned across his chest were the words, “The Prodigal Son.” I would never ask for that epithet. Because of that statement, I looked more closely; he was wearing a pleated skirt. Now, this guy wants to make a statement but apparently b/c he cannot use normal terms, he goes over the top. He looked to be in his thirties but didn’t seem embarrassed by his get-up. If anything, I would guess he was trying to shame his family, which hadn’t joined him for his trip to the store, for whatever reason.
I’ll not forget my blunder. Recently arrived in the Southern African country of Lesotho, we noticed the ubiquitous cooking pots, only slightly smaller than missionary size. I told my wife I’d get one the next time I went out to one of the villages. Shortly thereafter, the Chief Architect drove me to one of our projects. Realizing that might be an opportune time to snag a pot, I asked Nick to stop at Frazier’s Mercantile. He obliged, rather quickly, I thought.
In the hubbub of a village store, one tends to tune out the chatter. I found my pot, paid for it, hefted it and went out the door. Once outside, I heard a din of noise … hooting and laughing directed at me. Yes, it was. Nick knew what would happen and had his camera all set up to record the scene. You see, in most African cultures, men herd the cattle and women do all the domestic stuff. In other words, no self-respecting African male would ever pick up a pot, much less carry it out where he’d be seen.
That’s why this instruction recorded in Mark 14:13 must have seemed rather curious to Peter and John (as they are identified in Luke): So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him …”
In First Century culture, men did not carry water jars, either. That was a woman’s duty, and was considered an extremely feminine act. So this unknown man simply obeyed God. Putting the jar on his head (the easiest way to carry it), he took off according to God’s instructions—drawing much scorn from his neighbors—and then obediently went to where God told him, to lead the disciples to the Upper Room.
Like Peter and John, we likewise should be ready to let go of our preconceived notions of who does what and embrace service with open hearts. But will we do exactly what God tells us to do, even though it might mean ridicule, shame, or worse? Do you know how to prepare?
If we are not ready to take that step of obedience when the Holy Spirit directs, we may simply be like the man in the grocery store today—making a statement, but incomprehensible and full of ourselves.