This fall, I have the pleasure of working with a handful of fifth- and sixth-grade boys on a Boy Scout course entitled “God and Church.” The course focuses on who Jesus is, what the church is about, and how we can plug in to the life and ministry of the church through worship and service. So far, I have really enjoyed the time I’ve been able to spend with these boys and their parents on a weekly basis!
At our last meeting, we were talking about how much like us Jesus is – that is, how he is fully human and experienced things just like we do. (The next session is about how Jesus is fully divine: we believe both!) During the course of our conversation, one of the boys asked me a very insightful question:
“Was Jesus ever bullied?”
That question made me stop and think for a while. We often talk about how Jesus was tempted in every way, like we are, but never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). We remember how Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). We remember how Jesus had real human emotions like anger (John 2:12-22), sorrow (John 11:32-37), love (Mark 10:17-21), and many others. But was Jesus ever bullied?
We don’t know much about his childhood; just a couple of stories survive about those years, and none of them apply to this particular issue. So we can’t say for sure that Jesus was bullied as a child. But certainly there were occasions when Jesus as an adult was ignored, made fun of, or treated unfairly by other people:
- During his ministry, Jesus’s own family – his very own mother and brothers – thought he was crazy and out of his mind. (Can you imagine? At least his mother Mary should have known better!) They tried to make him keep quiet, stop teaching, and stop performing miracles. He responded by reminding everyone that obeying God’s will is his highest priority. (See Mark 3:20-35.)
- Jesus instructed his followers to expect to be hated by others because of their belief in him. Being a Christ-follower makes a person subject to the ridicule of other people, just as it did for Jesus himself and all the prophets of God before him. Jesus responded to the world’s hatred of him by speaking the truth, trusting in God, and remaining faithful to his calling. (See Luke 6:22-23, Matthew 24:9-10, and John 15:18-27.)
- When Jesus had been sentenced to die by crucifixion, he was flogged mercilessly and was handed over to the Roman guards. They stripped his clothes away and began to mock him: they put a royal robe over his bleeding shoulders, and they made a royal crown – made of thorns, not gold – and forced it on his head. They made fun of him, spat on him, and hit him on the head over and over again. He responded by not saying a word through the whole affair. (See Matthew 27:24-31.)
- Even while he was hanging on the cross, in his final moments, Jesus was mocked by the soldiers, bystanders, and other criminals. All were saying that if he really was the King of the Jews, why didn’t he save himself? Jesus responded by asking God to forgive those who were hurting him and by speaking kindly to a dying man who asked Jesus to remember him. (See Luke 23:33-43.)
“Was Jesus ever bullied?” I think the answer is “absolutely, yes” – even if bullying looks slightly different today. Many young people today are bullied in school and in other places, for many kinds of reasons. This is an awful truth, and we as people of faith must stand up against bullies on behalf of the children in our community.
Jesus understands that terrible experience, too, on a personal level. What’s more, he shows us all how we should respond: by trusting in God, by remembering the truth about who we are as God’s children, and by relying on his strength for every day’s challenges.