From the Garden Bench - Provocation
Words by David Hollows
What provokes you?
Who provokes you?
Provocation produces a response which can be either negative or positive. Sometimes the response can be extreme or minimal.
Provocation can produce anger, tears or laughter and the type of provocation will produce an emotional response based upon your personality.
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So, what provokes you?
Instances of injustice and unfairness, the mistreatment of individuals, people groups or animals, prejudice and bias, a lack of concern for animal welfare, the wrongful detention of minority groups, fraud and deception at national levels, abuse of others and the planet. The list goes on.
Who provokes you?
Members of your family who know which buttons to press to maximise your volcanic response. Colleagues at work as their temperament is in direct contrast to yours hence sparks occasionally fly. Shoppers whose trolley is stacked high with toilet rolls.
How do you respond?
Do you ignore and walk away? Do you make a comment or give a certain look or a make a suitable verbal utterance? Do you retaliate and make your opinions clearly heard?
Some people use their response to an act of provocation to become involved: political activism, working as a volunteer for a charity in a charity shop, engaging with a group of other like-minded people wanting to protect the planet.
How you respond and control your response will ultimately be determined by your character or by the thought of how you want others to see you. Your relationship with others can often determine your response – peer pressure and saving-face can be important elements in your response.
A volcanic response occasionally is not necessarily an unacceptable outcome as it helps others to understand your red-lines and to reflect upon their motive for provocation.
The Christian faith often provokes reactions from others. In many parts of the world, Christians endure physical violence and abuse simply because of their lifestyle; persecution and provocation often go hand-in-hand.
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In the Bible there are many examples of provocation where the outcome can be positive and negative.
The first such example is the murder of Abel by his brother Cain whose jealousy causes him to be exiled from God (Genesis chapter 4).
The sons of Jacob could explain the outcomes of their treatment of their brother, Joseph, because he provoked them with his arrogance and lack of maturity and sensitivity (Genesis chapter 37).
David, the shepherd boy, is provoked not by the loudness and arrogance of Goliath but because the giant is so mocking of David’s God (1 Samuel chapter 17).
Saul, the King in the Old Testament, is provoked to anger and jealousy because David is so popular and successful (1 Samuel chapter 18).
Nehemiah is provoked to renounce rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem by other nationals but his response is to continue rather than give up (Nehemiah chapter 6).
Amidst all his suffering, both physical and emotional, it is the wife of Job herself who provokes him to walk away from his beliefs: ‘Renounce God and die’ Instead Job holds firm to faith then God speaks with him. (Job chapter 2).
In the Nativity narrative, it is the fear and doubt in Zachariah which provoke the angel to cause Zachariah to become dumb during the pregnancy of his wife, Elizabeth (Luke chapter 1).
When Jesus heals the blind man, it is this healing process which provokes the Pharisees to reconsider their religious approach to Jesus (John chapter 9).
Many of the healings and miracles of Jesus provoke people to consider who He is and their response to Him: for example, the man with a withered hand is healed on the Sabbath (Luke chapter 6).
When Jesus is in the temple He is provoked to anger and violence by the market-place treatment of the temple which Jesus regards as a place of prayer and the House of God (John chapter 2).
The teachings of Jesus, such as the Beatitudes, provoked people to consider their lifestyles: the rich young man walked away from Jesus as he was not prepared to accept the terms Jesus offered (Matthew chapter 9) Even Ghandi was provoked by the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus. He could not accept the Christian faith but adopted some of the attitudes of Jesus.
In the story of the Prodigal Son, the return of the younger brother provokes a lack of generosity in the attitude of the older brother who refuses to welcome his brother home (Luke chapter 15).
Jesus provokes His disciples to reflect upon their opinion of Jesus and when challenged about the identity of Jesus it is Peter who replies: ‘You are the Christ’ (John chapter 6) Jesus provokes a response in His encounters with many people: Zacchaeus (Luke chapter 19) and the woman at the well at noon (John chapter 4).
Even God knows what it is to be provoked. When the Israelites wandered through the desert after leaving Egypt, their constant complaining provoked God to anger and the point of Him almost walking away. It was Moses who persuaded God to remain faithful to His people (Exodus chapter 32).
Today Christians are provoked by certain elements of the faith. The images of hell and heaven, especially in the Book of Revelation, provoke not only a variety of interpretations but response as well. Many Christian groups are provoked by the interpretation Jesus gave of heaven when He uses sheep and goats in His teaching (Matthew chapter 25).
The Christian faith is meant to provoke a response; to consider Jesus; what He achieved on the cross and in the tomb and to accept this offer of salvation and a relationship with God. Or to deny and reject Jesus as an historical figure, a teacher, a prophet but nothing more.
The narrative of the Christian faith is of a God who wants to restore a relationship of love with each of us.
We are provoked to accept or walk away – ours is the choice.
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The following hymn may be useful to you; Come let us sing of a wonderful love (Mission Praise 94)
The following prayer may be helpful to you:
Eternal God, you hold in love all who know and praise you and those who do not. Lord Jesus, you are a friend to all who own your name and those who ignore you. Holy Spirit of God, you work in full view of our open eyes and where we are blind to your actions.
Gracious God, we are provoked by your love to love you and others as you instructed us. When we fail in that love, forgive us and grant us your continued love that we may remain in our relationship with you, open and available that your love through us will reach others.
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God bless you