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Ten Things I Wish Jesus Hadn't Said

Ten Things I Wish Jesus Hadn't Said

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Ten Things I Wish Jesus Hadn't Said

Lunghezza:
184 pagine
3 ore
Pubblicato:
Sep 11, 2015
ISBN:
9780891126911
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

We want to follow the teachings of Jesus, but what are we supposed to do when those teachings seem too hard or too easy? Even worse, what are we supposed to do when they contradict each other?

The hard lessons of Jesus sear and scorch, challenge and demand. They call us to accountability, responsibility, and action. These are the lessons from the Sermon on the Mount, the words to the Rich Young Ruler and to the adulteress about to be stoned. These words refuse to let us off the hook.

The easy sayings seem to contradict and counter the hard messages. These teachings, such as, "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword," are easily ripped from context, manipulated, and distorted to allow excuses for behavior Jesus denounces in other lessons.

Ten Things I Wish Jesus Hadn't Said focuses on ten of these sayings: five that make it hard to be a Christian; five, in seeming contradiction, that make it easy-all re-scripted in present tense narrative and reframed for contemporary readers.
Pubblicato:
Sep 11, 2015
ISBN:
9780891126911
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Dr. Joe E. Morris, born in New Albany, Mississippi, authored the award-winning Land Where My Fathers Died and numerous short stories, one of which garnered a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. With Dr. Roy H. Ryan, he co-authored the best-selling Old Testament Stories: What Do They Say Today? and New Testament Stories: What Do They Say Today? A retired United Methodist minister and founder of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Mississippi, Dr. Morris maintains a private practice in psychology, works part-time in a prison in the Mississippi Delta, and writes. He and his wife, Sandi, live in Tupelo, Mississippi, and Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.

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Ten Things I Wish Jesus Hadn't Said - Joe E. Morris

discoveries.

1

DON’T DO IT AGAIN

Go and sin no more.

The Text

Then they all went home but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say? They were using this question as a trap in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?

No one, sir, she said.

Then neither do I condemn you, Jesus declared. Go now and leave your life of sin. (John 7:53–8:11)¹

The Context

The time is in the last days before Passover, just before Jesus is condemned and crucified. Gospel accounts indicate he spends the days in Jerusalem, mostly in the temple teaching, and retires each evening to Bethany on the Mount of Olives (Mark 8:31–33; Luke 21:37–38, 22:39).

The scene is a familiar one. Jesus is in the temple, amid the hubbub of Jewish life—Times Square or Saint Peter’s Square, in its day. The world is looking on, listening. He is teaching in one of the courts, perhaps making an important point, and a ruckus occurs. The religious Puritans of the time, the teachers of the Law (scribes) and Pharisees, drag a woman in front of him and make her stand before the group. Jesus is interrupted. The woman is humiliated. The rudeness repels us. What is the crowd thinking? Some are disgusted by the spotlighting of another’s guilt; others are delighted at the prospect of someone receiving punishment. A few are neutrally curious about the soap opera exploding in their midst.

We know what the accusers are thinking. They have an agenda. They want to create a stir. The intrusion is intentional; the timing, before a crowd, is perfect. They have no desire to obtain Jesus’ moral guidance. Their goal is to put him in a public dilemma. They are not bad people. Their way of pleasing God is different from that Jesus proposes. In a voice designed to get attention, one of them shouts, Rabbi, this woman was caught fornicating. The Law of Moses says stone her. What do you say? They address him as Rabbi—Teacher—magnifying his authority. Some wonder why they did not bring the man, too. What happened to him? Regardless, the woman alone is sufficient for the accusers’ purpose.

Sandwiched between murder and stealing, adultery is the subject of one of the Ten Commandments, a heinous sin punishable by death (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22). The scribes and Pharisees bring the woman before Jesus because she has violated the Law of Moses. But there are other reasons she is paraded before the crowd. Jesus is becoming a popular rabbi. He is a threat. His accusers, the religious establishment, need to discredit him.

The trap they set is a double bind. Jesus will either incite those around him to kill the woman and get arrested by Roman authorities, or he will transgress Jewish law by condoning the atrocious sin. The Roman authorities are a lesser and doubtful concern. They are probably beyond the horizon of this story. The Mosaic Law, however, is clear. From a purely legal perspective, the scribes and Pharisees are correct. The more natural interpretation, therefore, is that they are aware of the stories of Jesus’ mercy and intend to set him in direct opposition to the Law.

Jesus knows this and sees the trap. He is unruffled and refuses to answer. While the woman’s accusers persist in their questioning, he stoops down and writes in the dust with his finger.

A captivating part of the story is Jesus’ writing. It is the only record we have of Jesus writing. If he did write anything, it has not survived. Otherwise, it would have been pounced upon like all the other relics of that era—splinters from the Cross, fragments of his robe, the chalice from the Last Supper. No one, from medieval pilgrims to modern-day relic hunters, claims to have anything Jesus wrote. Scholars have guessed at what Jesus wrote on that occasion, but the more compelling question is why he wrote. What reason moved him to bend over and write something with his finger on the ground?

New Testament scholar William Barclay gives four possible reasons:

He wanted to gain time to think through his response.

He wanted them to repeat their charges.

He was embarrassed by the situation, momentarily confused, and bent over to hide his eyes from the crowd.

He wrote to uplift the sins of the accusers.

Barclay, impressed with the latter conjecture, points out that the typical Greek word for to write is graphein, but the word used in the ancient texts is katagraphein, which can also be interpreted as to write down a record against someone.²

Regardless of why or what he wrote, the woman’s accusers persist with their questions. We perceive them as impatient, standing triumphantly, arms folded, feet tapping, waiting. They’re thinking, We’ve got him now. How’s he going to get out of this one? they whisper one to another. Scripture says they continue questioning, but Jesus ignores them and keeps writing. Any discussion will be on his terms, not theirs.

Then he stands. His voice is not loud, not defensive or argumentative. Perhaps he is bouncing a stone in his palm as he speaks. The response he gives is the one they want. All right, stone her. Then the clincher comes, one they do not want, or expect. But let the one among you who is without sin hurl the first stone.

The implication is clear. Only God, a sinless agent, can forgive and punish. In one statement, Jesus undercuts the authority of the scribes and Pharisees. They, too, are sinners. Jesus does not protest the Law. He does not remove the problem from its legal area and place it in a context of appropriate moral human behavior. He does not raise the ethical question of humans regulating or judging human society. He raises the question about the capacity of sinful men to act as God’s agents. He has no more to say.

Jesus withdraws again from the scribes and Pharisees, stoops, and resumes his mysterious script in the dust. One by one, the legal and religious experts who brought the woman disperse, the elderly leaving first. No one throws a stone. No one is willing to participate in the punishment of the woman or pronounce a word of mercy. The double trap they set recoils against them. The point: all stand under the judgment of God. No one is without sin. No one can pronounce judgment.

The question renews itself: What is Jesus writing? He is writing, is interrupted, and then writes again. Some commentators state that the importance of the writing is upon the gesture and not its content. However, the accusers do not begin leaving until he bends over and writes again, giving the impression that what he writes is linked to his statement: If any of you has never committed a sin, then you step forward and throw the first stone. Whatever he is writing, it is short and penetrating. What has he written that causes the men to drop their mission and leave? Perhaps some names: Jezebel? Salome? Claudia? Or a place: Jerusalem Inn, Room 13? The world will never know. What the world does know is whatever he writes tips the thinking of the accusers, clamps on their conscience tighter than the trap they set for him. Regardless of the content, one by one they slip away, beginning with the oldest. Age mellows, experience broadens. The result is wisdom. The message hits the older men first. The younger ones hang around longer and then, perhaps taking their cue from the elders, depart.

In the vacuum left by the scribes and Pharisees, the vacuum of those who presumed to play God, Jesus and the woman stand alone. One imagines the crowd he was teaching is still gathered, hanging on their teacher’s next word. Perhaps he has not finished, there is more. He does not disappoint: Woman, where are they? Is there none left to condemn you?

No one, sir, she says.

We can only wonder what is going through the woman’s mind, standing there, her sin revealed to the world. The reader is given the impression she is guilty, caught red-handed. Besides guilt, that feeling of remorse for a wrongdoing, she probably feels shame. Who is in the crowd watching? Anyone she knows, friends, relatives . . . the whole world? Indescribable is the embarrassment flooding her emotions. In that moment of silence between the accusers who have left and the onlookers who wait, the silence between accusation and judgment, she wonders what will come next. What will the rabbi standing before her say? What will be the verdict?

In that hushed silence, with the world looking on, Jesus says, Neither do I condemn you. He, the sinless one sent by God, is the only One who can forgive this sin.

At last, a sigh of relief. She can breathe again. She is forgiven. Everyone is watching. Now she can hold her head up. They, too, have sinned, but their sins have not been forgiven in public like hers, and by the Lord. And the whole world saw. Thank you, Lord.

Then . . .

Go and do not sin again.

Coming on the heels of forgiveness, the words must hit her like a slap in the face. Neither do I condemn you immediately releases her guilt. But the respite is short-lived. Immediately following God’s words, indicative of grace, comes the imperative Go and sin no more. The former calms and comforts; the latter confronts and challenges. Go and sin no more calls for repentance. All of a sudden, she must turn around and not just leave her life of sin, but never return to it. In William Barclay’s translation of the passage, Jesus says, I am not for the moment going to pass judgment on you either. Go, and make a new start, and don’t sin anymore.³

We wonder about the people in the crowd. What are they thinking? Do they know this lady? Have they heard gossip that is now confirmed? Do they see the graphics in the dust? How many of them, men and women, have committed or are committing the same sin? With a crowd that large, it is likely that there are adulterers in it. If so, do they, too, feel forgiven? The question recalls the popular adage: There but for the grace of God go I. Do they feel equally compelled to go and not sin again? We will never know the lives changed that day in the brief span of that event or the countless lives affected through history.

We do not know the rest of the story. We can only speculate about the woman. Does she return to her normal life and sin no more? She is human, so she probably sins again. We all do. Sin is not so much something we do but something we are, a state of being that defines our humanness, our not-God-ness. But does she continue in her adulterous relationship and lifestyle? Does she return that day to her home with visions and plans of seeing her lover again? Does she send word to him: We are going to have to stop seeing each other, maybe a couple more times for purposes of closure, then no more. Or is the message: No more. We must stop. It is wrong. I have been forgiven by the Lord. I will not see you again.

The lesson within the story, the force of Jesus’ words, the impact of his love and forgiveness, imply she does the latter. He said to her, Go now and leave your life of sin. We are left with the strong impression that she returns home, sends word to her lover, slams the door shut on that part of her life, and begins anew. The power of Jesus’ forgiveness—Neither do I condemn you—seals it for her.

In this short story, the woman is the character. The event is her confrontation with a choice: Go and do not sin again. She can return to her old life or reach out and discover one that is completely new. The change which occurs is left open. We want to believe she chooses the latter, to follow Jesus’ command.

The Message

The story turns on three key themes: judging others, forgiveness, and repentance. All three are interlinked. We do not judge because we forgive, and forgiven people repent, go, and sin no more. Despite their interlocking relationship, each merits separate study.

Let him who is without sin among you . . .

Judging another person goes to the issue of authority, its purpose, and how we use it. In this story, the scribes and Pharisees use their authority—the Law—for only one objective: to punish. Their ultimate purpose is to banish the sinner from society—delete her for the sake of societal purity.

In this light, theologian Paul Tillich compares the Pharisees with the Puritans of colonial America. The accusers, particularly in the story from the Gospel of John, are portrayed as having a right to

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