By Gary Thomas
Since Jesus came from heaven to walk among us, Christians tend to think that walking away from anyone, or letting anyone walk away from the truth, is a failure on our part.
But Jesus walked away or let others walk away … a lot.
I recently reread the gospels and counted every occurrence where Jesus deliberately parted ways with others. Sometimes He spoke a hard truth, after which the other person walked away.
Other times, the people had been touched and begged Jesus to stay, but He had other places to go and left them. Overall, I counted 41 such instances in all four gospels. Forty-one!
Some of these references refer to the same encounter, but that still leaves more than two dozen distinct times when Jesus demonstrated walking away or letting someone else walk away.
These occurrences weren’t always rooted in conflict. Sometimes Jesus walked away from others who wanted more of Him. On still other occasions, He retreated for His own refreshment and renewal or protection.
The point is that Jesus didn’t let the needs, pleas, attacks, or unresponsiveness of others distract Him from the mission given to Him by his heavenly Father.
One thing we don’t see when others walk away is Jesus giving chase. As powerful as Jesus was, as brilliant as Jesus was, as pure as Jesus was, and as surrendered to God as Jesus was, not everyone he interacted with “changed,” repented, or agreed with Him.
Here’s the principle that comes from that: Sometimes to follow in the footsteps of Jesus is to walk away from others or to let them walk away from us.
Take, for instance, the story of the rich young ruler. Jesus discerned this young man’s heart and the core issue in his life—he loved money. When the earnest young man couldn’t walk away from his money, he chose to walk away from Jesus.
Notice that our Lord didn’t run after him. Jesus didn’t say, “Wait! I know asking you to give 100% is a bit extreme; if you give away just 50%, I think we can make this work. I need followers! Let’s bargain!”
No, He turned to His disciples and explained what had just happened and why it was so difficult for that rich man to join them.
“Toxic” doesn’t seem to fit this young man’s profile, but the principle is clear: when truth is rejected, spend your time on those who will receive it instead of begging closed-hearted people to reconsider.
On another occasion, after giving a difficult teaching about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, Jesus lost a lot of previously enthusiastic followers: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve” (John 6:66–67).
Notice the same pattern. Not just one, but many walked away. And not just casual onlookers; they’re called his “disciples.” Instead of chasing them down and begging them not to misunderstand him and to please come back, Jesus turns to the Twelve, and says, “So, what about you?”
Notice the confidence that gives authority to his message. Jesus never appears desperate, manipulative, or controlling, as if when people didn’t agree with Him, His feelings would be hurt. He is mission-focused and others-centered to his deepest core.
Jesus also demonstrates the need to sometimes “verbally” walk away when dealing with a toxic person, like Herod. Instead of arguing with Herod and trying to justify himself, Jesus remained silent: “[Herod] plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer” (Luke 23:9).
Jesus adopted the same approach with Pilate and the religious leaders: “When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor” (Matthew 27:12–14).
We don’t have to argue. When a toxic person is attacking you, you don’t have to participate. Especially when you know it won’t make any difference, spend those few moments worshiping and relating to your loving heavenly Father rather than contending with a hateful assault.
A particularly vivid example of Jesus letting someone walk away occurred at the Last Supper. Jesus knew Judas was going to betray Him. He spoke about it in advance.
And yet He allowed Judas to walk out of the room. He didn’t chase after him. He didn’t waste time trying to change Judas’s mind.
Instead, He spent every last minute he had left investing in his faithful, reliable disciples and in prayer right up until the moment he was arrested.
Many plastic bracelets have been sold with the words “What Would Jesus Do?” If you’re dealing with toxic people, you may want to get a bracelet that reads, “What Would Jesus Not Do?”
The answer is, “He wouldn’t chase after them.”
GARY THOMAS (@GaryLThomas) is a best-selling author and international speaker based in Houston, Texas. Taken from When to Walk Away by Gary Thomas. Copyright © 2019 by Gary Thomas. Used by permission of Zondervan.