November 20, 2010

PC Jesus or Tactful Jesus?

We live in a politically correct society that is governed by the buzzword "tolerance". As nearly every Christian understands, this tolerance is extended to everyone except Christians. So when people stumble across the story of Jesus and the woman caught in the act of adultery we see what the PC crowd offers up as an incident or perfect example of Jesus being "tolerant". It is latched onto as a shining example of Christianity being tolerant. It is paraded around by those that misunderstand the passage, "Look! See! We really aren't backwoods counterculturish snobs! We can adapt to the modern culture!"

Unfortunately, this would be a misappropriation of the passage and a major misunderstanding/misuse of the passage and of Jesus' words and intent. It would be a contemporization of the passage to adapt to the culture of the 21st century for starters. Secondly, it would be a total massacre and botch of the original purpose of the lesson taught in this episode. It would be akin to saying that Moses parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites wouldn't get wet or Adam and Eve ate the apple was because they were hungry.

According to John 8 the scribes and Pharisees brought this woman to Jesus who had been caught in the actual act of sexual relations with a man (makes one wonder where they were to be able to catch her). We can assume she was actually guilty.

"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". John 8:3-6

We then get Jesus' brilliant rebuttal to the Jewish leaders. "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” and he again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. One by one they disappear from the oldest to the youngest.

Jesus the tolerant and wise teacher! Right? Tolerant how? Tolerant the way the world today means it? Playing things loose, allowing people to be promiscuous, having a live and let live attitude? Or is His tolerance akin to the fact that He didn't strike people down with intentionality for their sin and smite and destroy them immediately as they deserve for their sin? He allowed them time to realize the error of their ways and allow them time to repent? Was Jesus on the side of sinners because they were the ostracized of the Jewish society and picked on because they were the little man which nowadays is so hip and chic? Or...was He supporting the sinner because they are the underdog or supporting sinners because without this/His support they were condemned? Condemned to Hell. Condemned just as many of the Jewish leaders would be (as Jesus pointed out with His statement of their sins). Was Jesus being tolerant of this woman's sin and telling the others to back-off because they were just jealous and being hypocritical to her and murderous towards Jesus...or was there something more here? These could be loose interpretations of this passage from folks with poor hermeneutical skills or a liberal presupposition but they would be wrong.

If Jesus had ended this discussion with the scolding of the Jewish leaders the previous conclusions would hold water but it doesn't end there does it? What does Jesus do after these leaders trickle away? He straightens up, turns to the woman and with two questions He totally changes the direction of this passage and probably the woman's life. "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” Her reply is simple, "No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

It is the very last sentence that changes the tone of this exchange. It causes an aboutface in the storyline and turns directly to face the sin underlying the woman's portion of the narrative. Jesus makes a specific statement that is an imperative or an absolute necessity that must be done. He does not equivocate or beat around the bush. Jesus was not being evasive here He was being invasive. He surgically reaches into this woman's life like a surgeon and pinpoints the source of her problem. He then tells her how to address it. He is also reaching into our lives as readers and vicariously telling us the source of our problem. He was not passively allowing things to exist as they were but essentially demanding a change of behavior. Not a live and let live attitude is it? Not very PC either. It is a call to action to change behavior not allow existing bad behavior to continue. He imposes a standard of living on a person that will require them to change to be able to accommodate.

The initial reaction by Jesus was not so much a momentary acceptance of the woman's bad behavior as it was a rejection of the devious and duplicitous plot by the Jewish leaders to trap Jesus in a position that would demand a stoning. A stoning that would bring Jesus under fire of the Roman authorities since capital punishment except by the Roman authorities was illegal and punishable itself by death in many circumstances. Jesus was in no way condemning or overlooking this woman's sinful actions. He only postponed addressing it until the hypocritical leaders left. He could then deal with her indiscretions in a more discreet and tactful manner...unlike the Jewish leaders treatment of the woman. He also cleverly rebukes the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders and tactfully, with an indirect allusion, informs them they should not sin or be hypocritical either.

"Let he that is without sin cast the first stone". Which is to say: Don't judge others of the sin you are guilty of -or- if you do judge be sure you are not committing the sin you pass judgement on since you will be judged in the same measure.

What is truly amazing in this passage is the time frame in which Jesus determines the outcome. At best we are talking perhaps seconds. These Jewish leaders came in search of accusation and confrontation with Jesus as they often did in the Gospels. It most likely required time-consuming and concerted efforts of many "wise" Jewish leaders to come up with these stumbling blocks or traps to try and ensnare Jesus. He defuses and shelves this incident instantly and with a minimum of words. With a single statement he draws into question the actions of every man standing there and exposes their hypocrisy hopefully changing the attitudes of some of them. With a single line of inquiry he draws into question every action of one woman and exposes her sin and insists she change. The Jewish leaders come with the intent to convict the woman and to convict Jesus but instead walk way convicted. A woman humiliated by her own sin is given another chance if she would only change and repent of her old ways.

Brilliant. What else would you expect from Jesus?

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