A Half-Listened Lie
By Anthony Casperson

While such an event occurs in real life from time to time, one of the cheapest methods of achieving narrative drama is having a person overhear part of a conversation. Then, typically, those half-heard words lead the character to the exact opposite conclusion of what was being said.

For instance—and I don’t think I need to announce spoilers for a movie that’s over 2 decades old—take a scene from the original Shrek film. When the titular character overhears Fiona talking to Donkey about her curse of being transformed into an ogre, Shrek only hears her fretting over how anyone could love an ogre. Because he didn’t hear the whole conversation, and doesn’t know that Fiona is in ogre form at the moment, Shrek comes to the wrong conclusion. He thinks she could never love him, when the truth is that Fiona fears she’d be the one to never have anyone love her if she remained as an ogre. And that leads to further complications of the plot.

These types of misunderstandings should remind us that the whole conversation is always better than half-listened to words. While the words might be true in the state of complete wholeness, they become dangerous lies when only half heard.

And this is true for every form of communication. Which includes the word of God. This is why, when we followers of Jesus read the bible, we should understand the context of any passage we read or study. Especially when we’re attempting to apply the truth of God well.

Far too often, people with various levels of faith in Jesus quote a single verse, or allude to a single idea of the bible, without understanding its context. Then they apply the words to their lives with a mantra-like approach. And afterward, the half-heard idea becomes a believed lie. The application goes in the total opposite direction of what God’s word meant.

This is why cherry-picking verses can be detrimental to faith and life as a follower of Jesus.

And when I say “context,” I not only mean the verses directly before and after it—although that’s the best place to start—but also any passages that speak about the same thing, or that refer to the same event. Another step beyond these would be to look at the cultural context of the original human author and their audience as well.

Since the reason that I bring up the idea of context with regards to biblical truth is because of a poor application of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet, let’s look at the this event recorded in John 13.

The actual foot washing occurs in verses 4-14, with an objection from Peter imposing itself into the moment. But did you catch the question Jesus asks in verse 12? He directly inquires of them if they understand why he did this. What was his purpose?

When none of them have an answer, he continues. His purpose was to give one last reminder that we followers of Jesus shouldn’t selfishly seek our own place of honor. That greatness in the Kingdom of God is never about our social positioning. There’s no need for us to fight and scrabble and coerce and jockey for the place of prominence in life. We should be willing to lay down our own personal priorities for the betterment of others. Serve others without fear of missing out on our needs.

Stop looking out for number one, and start being the number one person to offer help. Even when we’ll get nothing for it in return.

This is all the more clear of a purpose when we look at this general timeframe of Jesus’ last Passover meal in the other gospels. Particularly, Luke 22. In verses 24-30, we see during this same feast that the Twelve begin to argue over who is the greatest among them. They start pushing and clamoring over each other to get the best seats for the feast. The closer they recline to Jesus, the more important they feel that they’ll be in his kingdom.

It’s during this heated argument that Jesus slowly takes off his outer garments and picks up the tools of a servant. While they’re fighting over who’s the greatest, the actual greatest among them empties himself of that right and takes on the form of a servant.

This application of the whole event is far more than the “Just be nice to others and let them live the way they want to live” idea that has been falsely imposed upon Jesus’ action of foot washing. As a matter of fact, those who want to claim their feet be washed by a follow of Jesus, but are asking for their own selfish desires to supercede Jesus’ clear teachings about sin, misunderstand the whole point of the act.

Jesus doesn’t want us to be nice. His followers must be holy. We should listen to and obey the word of God. Let our selfish desires fall to the wayside, as we pick up God’s truth. Along with the basin and the towel.

Humbly emptying of our desires that go against the ways of God will lead us to truthful service. Rather than the half-heard lie of approving people continue in their sin.

Oh, and one last thought about foot washing. Yes, we followers of Jesus should be willing to serve both those who follow Jesus and those who don’t. After all, Jesus did wash Judas’s feet right along with the rest of them. John 13 even begins with a statement that Judas’s plan to betray Jesus was an impetus for Jesus’ action of foot washing.

And we should understand that Judas acted in line with his own half-heard lie. Only heard the parts of Jesus’ words that made him feel good in his delusions of acceptance.

See, Judas thought that the Messiah would come and physically destroy Rome, just like the rest of the Twelve did. And under the deceptive influence of Satan, Judas thought he was helping to usher in this supposed kingdom. Pushing the confrontation to its ultimate conclusion. But because he believed a half-heard lie, he walked the road to perdition. Or, as an age old saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

So, let’s be careful when applying God’s word to our lives. Don’t cherry-pick or only hear half of the words. After all, if we do, we can find troubling words even from Jesus himself. Remember that Jesus’ last words to Judas are found in John 13:27. “What you’re about to do, do quickly.” And some time after that, Judas hanged himself. That sounds kinda bad, if we leave out the whole going to the High Priest and betraying Jesus thing, doesn’t it?

If we only hear half the words, and don’t understand the context, we might just come to a drastically terrible application. And find a lie that only leads to death.