We spent a lot of time trying to persuade people to do things that, initially, they don’t want to do. We say things like, “Don’t study. Come check out this concert instead.” Or things like, “Look. I know you don’t want to, but could you help me with [insert unpleasant task here].” I’ve been trying to figure out how to be better at this whole persuasion business, not so that I can persuade folk to do diabolical deeds like murder puppies or do all my homework for me but so that I can get folk on board for ushering in the kingdom of God.
Seemed like a good project to me…until I found out that it doesn’t really look like Jesus is trying to be in the persuasion business. Take one example.
Jesus: Hey, superficially excited peasant. Follow me. Be my disciple.
Superficially excited peasant: Oh hey…uh…listen I gotta go bury my pops.
Jesus: Mkay no. Peace, son!
No persuasion. Not even a little bit.
Jesus: Oh, you aren’t sold out on following me? That’s cool. I don’t need you then.
Alright, so what I’ve said so far is half a lie. Jesus did do some persuasion type nonsense. He seems particularly down for persuasive dialogue when he’s talking to Pharisees and trying to argue that they are full of it. So, Jesus is half in the persuasion business.¹
So, here’s the thing: Jesus was probably smarter than me. I think I should be in the persuasion business hardcore. Jesus, on the hand, seems to be a bit more selective about his potential persuasive endeavors. So, what’s driving this selectivity? (Is “selectivity” a word?)
There might be an answer explicitly in the gospels. If there is, I can’t think of it off hand, which means that, for the time being, I’m going to have to resort to some good old educated guess work.
Here’s some possibilities that seem, prima facie, plausible:
Jesus: I am fixin to die here soon. I don’t have time to deal with folk who are gonna half-ass it.
Foreknowledgethat these folk’ll fail
Jesus: Anyone who isn’t on board initially isn’t going to persuaded. I’d just be throwing pearls to swine.
That’s probably not even close to an exhaustive list of the possibilities, but let’s look at each of them and ask, “If Jesus wasn’t persuading folk because of this reason, then is my situation such that I should also use this reason to stop trying to persuade people?” So, let’s start with the first reason:
Practical constraints. I’m not exactly fixing to die. (Or at least, I hope so.) But it could be the case that persuasion is such a time consuming endeavor that it is just inefficient to spend our time doing a whole lot of persuasion when there are so many folk who are down for the Divine if they just hear the word.
Meh…that just seems false. Its 2012. Its not like people don’t know who Jesus is. They’ve heard, and they are not impressed. Its not just that Christians haven’t been spitting the Jesus message correctly either. Even when we got super articulate folk “spreading the good news,” people aren’t biting.
Hmm…well, it could be the case that the vast majority of folk haven’t been exposed to an ideal articulation of the Christian message. If this is the case, then I should be in the business of mustering up some articulateness and spitting the message clearly. If people aren’t on board, I should just move on the next person, spewing articulate gospel on as many folk as I can since many of them haven’t heard it expressed as clearly as yours truly would be able to. (With some Divine help of course.)
Alright. Nothing wrong with that…unless.
Is there a clear distinction between clear articulation and persuasion?
Some folk think not.
Some folk: If you really understood,you would follow Jesus.
Balls. Well, that leads to a pretty controversial philosophical debate that I definitely can’t look at (much less solve) here. Time to look at option numbero dos.
Foreknowledge that those folk’ll fail. Yikes. This just seems crazy. Just because someone isn’t on board the Jesus train initially doesn’t mean that they won’t be persuaded later. Take Paul, for example. (Although, we might wonder if getting knocked off your ass really counts as being persuaded to follow Jesus. Nonetheless, the point still holds.) Alright then…so much for that reason.
Conclusion: I need to a) figure out if there are any explicit (or implicit) explanations in the gospels for Jesus’ anti-lets-always-be-in-the-business-of-persuasion, b) figure out if there are other possibilities aside from the text to speculate about, c) see if those possibilities can be instructive for me, and d) maybe work out the underlying philosophical issues that make us want to equate clear articulation with persuasion.
Oh wait…fake out. I think I just got it. The answer is in Jesus’ eschatology. That’s what I need to look into. Btw, just realized that the above example of Jesus not persuading folk is less than ideal, but we can think of another one.
1. We could say that when Jesus talks about treasure in heaven and rewards from Papa Sky, he is engaging in persuasive practices. But the point still remains: once Jesus has spit his initial game, he is done persuading. If people aren’t on board for getting their divine doggie treats, then he’s done talking to them.