Grace Misunderstood by the Masses

“The shee-eee-eep don’t like it!

Lock the cash-box, lock the cash-box”

“Those aren’t the words…it’s ‘Mock the cat-socks’!”

“Are you sure? I’ve been singing it that way my whole life.”

Have you ever misheard a lyric in a song? Did you know there’s an actual name for that? It’s called a “mondegreen“.  Apparently it’s a very common, human experience. Psychologists say that human beings interpret their environment partially based on experience, and this includes speech perception. Dr. Mark Liberman, professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, explains the phenomenon: when you hear a song “you’re getting an input signal that is muddled with background music, rhythms, and syllabification, which makes it hard for your brain to interpret everything at once.”

People are more likely to notice what they expect than things not part of their everyday experiences, and they may mistake an unfamiliar stimulus for a familiar and more plausible version.

That is an innocent enough thing when it comes to song lyrics, but we as humans can have the same trouble when interpreting people. Sometimes we misunderstand, and sometimes we are misunderstood.

Paul experienced that in a big way in the text we’ll be reading in Acts 21:17-36.

When Paul finally makes it to Jerusalem and tells of all the wonderful things God has been doing, you get the impression there is a light “golf-clap” and then everyone clears their throats and gets to the real issue of interest, namely: Paul’s bad reputation.

Have you ever brought someone some really good news only to have the subject change to something very negative right away? How did it make you feel?

Paul’s reputation is actually a misrepresentation of what he really taught and believed. A sort of doctrinal mondegreen. Paul wasn’t trying to undermine the Jewish heritage or customs, but what was he saying when he told people that “Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t mean anything. What matters is a new creation.”, in Gal 6:15? Can you see how people who were defensive about their religious heritage are hearing what they expect to hear?

The leaders in Jerusalem offered a solution – go sponsor some dudes who are going through purification rituals because of living among gentiles, and do that purification yourself. Commentators are divided about the wisdom of this advice. Some believe it was a weak compromise. Others believe it was a gracious attempt at keeping peace. Read 1 Cor 9:19-22. Does this passage inform your view on Paul’s actions?

Have you ever done all you can to help someone understand your intentions but they still refuse to accept you? How does that feel, and how do you want to react? Imagine you’re Paul, having seen and done and experienced all that you have;  having bent over backwards to make your good intentions known. Imagine yourself staring up at the blue sky as you’re being passed overhead from cop to cop while an angry mob is calling for your blood. What are your thoughts right then? How could all of Paul’s reiterations of his belief that God was leading him (in chapter 20 and the first part of 21) have helped him in that moment?

This will be a challenging study…a call to be anchored in God’s grace. Hope to see you this Sunday!




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