The Art of Being Misunderstood

Margaret Manning of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries writes:

“As a Christian, when I read the gospels I find that Jesus mastered the art of being misunderstood. He often asked questions rather than giving answers. Or he answered those who questioned him with parables or enigmatic exhortations that left his followers (and those on the outside) without even the smallest shred of understanding. Consider his remarks in the gospel of John as an example:

I am the living bread which comes down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. The Jews therefore began to argue with one another saying, ‘how can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ Truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in yourselves.(1)

The gospel goes on to tell the reader that as a result of Jesus saying these things many of his followers withdrew and were not walking with him any longer. But Jesus doesn’t go on the offensive and try to explain what he was saying. He leaves the very hard things he has just said to stand. Mysteriously, he allows himself to be misunderstood. He leaves room for those who heard these strange sayings to wonder; he leaves room for wrestling, and even for many to walk away.

While there are many facets of Jesus’s art, his willingness to be misunderstood is a facet I cannot ignore. His conversations, his questions, his hard sayings all create an often uneasy space for those who want to justify themselves. He does not have the need to be understood, or to maintain a perfect persona. His was not a presence that clamored for attention nor did he strive to protect his image.

While there are many things I do to create misunderstanding that must be corrected and made right, there will always be times when what I say or do—even with the best of intentions—will be misunderstood. In these times, I have the opportunity to allow room for misunderstanding, or I can give way to my desire for self-protection, or worse, self-promotion. In remaining in that uneasy space, a certain kind of art can be created. It is the art of practicing a necessary discipline—like Jesus—to “have no stately form or majesty,” nor craft an appearance to which “anyone would be attracted.” Instead, as followers of the one who was despised and forsaken we too can practice the art of being misunderstood.”


Learning to live into this part of the call to ministry, too.