The words translated as rebuke in the Bible are a complex mix of words. When it comes to the word rebuke, context matters greatly and intention is everything.
In Scripture, a rebuke can be righteous and from God. It can also be experienced very negatively as the aggression of a former friend. It can be the necessary and gentle correction which puts us back on the right track. It can also be an expression of dominance wielded with dextrous cynicism by those with power and no compassion, a tool of control and abuse.
Rebukes can be misdirected and need to be corrected. Boaz tells his men to allow Ruth to gather wheat from the field and not to rebuke her (2.16). Job rejects the rebuke of his friends, telling them that they are wrong, that they are not listening to his words and his conviction. (6.25).
Rebukes can reveal our own distance from God, and our own partial understanding. Peter rebukes Jesus for saying that he is going to Jerusalem to be crucified and Jesus rebukes him in turn, calling him a stumbling block (Mark 8.32-33).
Rebukes can call us back to the true light and the true path of salvation and service. God tells Ezekiel that the time for repentance has not yet come, that he will cleave his tongue to his cheek so that he will not be able to rebuke the exiles (with the clear understanding that a rebuke would call them back to truth and obedience.) (3.26)
A rebuke from God is compelling and transformative. A rebuke which is given with authority has power to change. Jesus rebukes those changing money in the Temple courts and overturns the tables, speaking with authority and conviction, calling people back to a proper understanding of faith (John 2.13-22). He rebukes the storm and the waves which rage around him on the lake, and they fall still- and the disciples who were half-terrified by the storm are wholly terrified by what they begin to glimpse of Jesus- who is this, that the wind and the waves obey him? Later on, Jesus rebukes the disciples when they try to stop the children coming to him because the kingdom of God belongs to such as them. (Luke 18.15).
At its worst, a rebuke is an abuse of power and an attempt to control, imprison, reduce those around us which has nothing to do with God. Such a rebuke is worthy of the sort of rebuke Jesus speaks to the disciples over and over again, calling them to focus not on themselves but on the Kingdom. A rebuke which is rooted only in self is to be repented of- a rebuke which calls us and those we are connected to back to the path of discipleship and back to building the Kingdom, a rebuke which comes from God, is a necessary part of being a pilgrim and being a pilgrim Church.
Do the words of rebuke originate in God’s call to be his people, in the call to justice, mercy and healing? Or do they originate in self and jealousy and fear?
Lord God, this Lent, help us to ignore those voices which seek to silence us without cause. Help us to listen only to your rebuke, calling us back to the light, calling us always to do more, to care more, to serve more, to dare more, to love more. Amen.
The Rev’d Richard Lamey