UNDISCOVERED GENIUS

A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

23 Free at Last


23 Free at Last


Last week we enjoyed a fabulous hit list of quotes about freedom. In my opinion, no such survey would be complete without some comment on Martin Luther King Jr. I know his special day is in the winter, but I couldn't resist getting into him now, since the text from last week was:

John 8:31-32:

“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

The career of Martin Luther King brings into high relief a point reiterated over an over again last week:

"We have concluded that the DOING of the truth reveals the truth to us."
In the words of St. Augustine:
"All men indeed perceive that “shall know” is the same thing as “shall understand:” but that the saying, “If any man be willing to do His will,” refers to believing, all do not perceive; to perceive this more accurately, we need the Lord Himself for expounder, to show us whether the doing of the Father's will does in reality refer to believing. . . . . ."

We have thus contemplated the moral imagination as the source of right action, and have concluded, from the above, that right action is the realization of, an outer articulation of, an inner image created in the heart by faith.

Doing the right thing automatically brings us into the realm of the mundane, since DOING implies physicality, the physicality of the mundane world; and it must be admitted that the mundane world was a primary focus of Dr. King's quest for freedom--political freedom. Below we will have cause to refer to this mundane focus as the ETHICS of freedom. However, it must also be admitted that political freedom was not the ONLY focus of Dr. King's quest; it is indeed, the blending of political freedom and spiritual freedom that is the subject of today's sermon.

All last week we discussed spiritual freedom. We discussed the truth that makes us free through:

1. right action,
2. faith,
3. prophecy,
4. giving our souls infinite space by freeing us from self-imposed bondage,
5. giving us enhanced access to the Son,
6. giving us enhanced access to Grace,
7. warning us away from the lies of the Tempter, and
8. reminding us to always look inside ourselves for the truth, and not to the         opinions of anybody else.

Some major points from last week include this point:

"We must concern ourselves, as much as possible with our own personal truth, expressed in out own personal language, and avoid coming to any verbal conclusions about anybody else. We must look into the cloud of unknowing with minds uncluttered with verbalizations about the world, and allow the light of heaven to spill into our hearts. Only when the light in our hearts shines through our mouths will we speak the truth, and know the truth, and share that truth with others."

and this major point:

"The Son sees the future, and, by leading us in right action, He sets up a chain of causality that affirms spirit manifesting through faith. Thus truth is prophetic. Right action is like hope: it not only brings spirit into the present by enlightening the eternal now with heavenly energy, it affirms the promised future descent of spirit into mundane reality by virtue of the essential nature of karmic causality; I mean: right action is motivated by the moral imagination which is unbounded by time, but right action still generates repercussions which spread out like waves through time endowing past, present, AND future with the radiance of truth manifested in the step-by-step progression from one plane of spiritual hierarchy to the next; I mean: every right action leads to another right action, and another, and another blending all the dimensions of time into a single implicate (enfolded) order."

Notice how the idea of truth as prophecy is linked to truth as right action--right action in the mundane world. Today we must go further into the subject of how spiritual freedom relates to freedom in the world of men.

First let us review the famous lines at the end of Dr. King's speech:

"when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet,
from every state and every city,
we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children,
black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles,
Protestants and Catholics,
will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

The old Negro spiritual which is part of “American Negro Songs” that was written by J. W. Work:"

"Free at last, free at last
, I thank God I’m free at last, 
Free at last, free at last, 
I thank God I’m free at last

Way down yonder in the graveyard walk, 
I thank God I’m free at last, 
Me and my Jesus going to meet and talk
, I thank God I’m free at last

On my knees when the light pass’d by, 
I thank God I’m free at last,
 Tho’t my soul would rise and fly, 
I thank God I’m free at last

Some of these mornings, bright and fair, 
I thank God I’m free at last, 
Goin’ meet King Jesus in the air, 
I thank God I’m free at last."

The following online article Free at Last by Pamela Rose Williams provides these these introductory words:

"As we compare what Jesus was saying and what Dr. King preached, we see that indeed, they were both talking about the same freedom; freedom from sin.  They were both talking about the same truth; the truth that is found only in Jesus the Christ.

This is the time of the year when we remember the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He is best known for his involvement in the Civil Rights movement and his stirring speeches on racial equality.  When I read today’s verse I am reminded of one of Dr. King’s great speeches when he lead the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963.  In that speech he quoted an old Negro spiritual when he said “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”"

Dr. King was a spiritual man, and in fact he was a Baptist minister.  In his lifetime he fought for the freedom of the minority and his speeches and sermons were full of truth and passion.  He gave his life to the fight for freedom!

In today’s passage we read about what Jesus was telling the people.  Specifically, he was speaking to the Jews who did not understand that He was the Messiah; The Lamb of God sent to make them free.  When you continue on and read a little more of the passage, you can see that these Jews truly did not understand what Jesus was saying at all.  They understood freedom and bondage only as to be a slave or a free man.  They believed because they were of the seed of Abraham that they were free already.  Here is how Jesus explains:

John 8:33-38:

"[33]They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?
[34] Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. 
[35] And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.
[36] If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
[37] I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you.
[38] I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father."

Notice that when the truth "hath no place in you" you perform wrong actions. The opposite conclusion is irresistible: if the truth has a place in you, you will perform right actions. It is also an irresistible implication to suggest that heavenly truth motivates action worthy of heaven, whereas infernal lies motivate worldly crimes. How many infernal crimes have been committed in the name of some false truth or other? How many of us have put our thinking ahead of our hearts in matters of philosophy or morality?

The experience of the world as a mythological reality necessarily brings heaven down into the mundane dimension, while the experience of the world as a cold reality reduces all action to not only heartless but mindless madness; the heart informs the mind, not the other way round; as St. Augustine said:

“If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak from myself.”

What is the meaning of this,

“If any man be willing to do His will”?

But I had said, if any man believe; and I gave this counsel: If you have not understood, said I, believe. For understanding is the reward of faith.

Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that you may understand; since,

“except ye believe, you shall not understand.” Isaiah 7:9"

The mind can suck the truth, the joy, the absolute reality out of anything it pollutes with its self-limited definitions and borrowed literal-minded opinions. We have agreed that language creates consciousness--the same consciousness that cost Adam and Eve their home in paradise. God, please let us resist the temptation to go down that road, and think ourselves into Hell!


The following an excerpt from a sermon preached by Pastor Gregg Bitter on November 4, 2007. It purports to be a comparison between the freedom to truth equations of Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King Jr. As you will see, this Lutheran minister does not think much of the political freedom sought by Martin Luther King Jr., and the piece dwells mainly on Martin Luther. In fact, Martin Luther King Jr. is only mentioned once in the whole thing. Nevertheless, it is a good sermon, and will lead us around to some more salient comparisons between political truth and spiritual truth:

"This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints of God:
My two younger children tend to get these two men mixed up:
Of course, it's not the pictures that confuse them, but the names. Martin Luther King Jr. and simply Martin Luther. It's especially confusing in January when the hear a lot of talk about Martin Luther King Jr. at school. They associate with that name, since we go to St. John's Lutheran Church.

Now we could call both men freedom fighters. But they fought for very different kinds of freedom. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for the kind of freedom we call civil rights. In the 1950's and 60's, he wanted to make sure that African-Americans had the same rights in public that white Americans had. He wanted to free them from segregation and second-class citizenship.

Martin Luther, on the other hand, was concerned about slavery -- not physical slavery to human masters, like Israel in Egypt or the slaves in the South before the Civil War. He was concerned about a far worse slavery. For you see, physical slavery, even the worst kind filled with abuse and beatings, physical slavery ends at death, but not the slavery that troubled Martin Luther. Rather than freeing a person from this slavery, death brought a whole new level of pain and torture, namely hell.

A. Free from slavery to sin
1) Who has been chained by slavery to sin?
What was this slavery that troubled Martin Luther? It was the same slavery that Jesus talks about in the text. Slavery to sin. And this slavery isn't confined to Martin Luther or to a certain race of people. This slavery chained us all. I tell you the truth, Jesus said, everyone who sins is a slave to sin  (John 8:34 NIV). And who sins? Remember what the Second Lesson said,

Romans 3:20-23:

"Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin . . . There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

Every one of us sins. This slavery chained us all.

2. What cannot free us from this slavery?
Now one of our greatest sins is to think that our sin isn't all that bad, at least not now anymore. That's why some in the crowd so strongly objected to Jesus saying that he would set them free.

John 8:33:

"We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"

They knew that Jesus was talking about spiritual freedom. Abraham's descendants had often lost political freedom. They had been slaves in Egypt. At various times while they lived in Canaan one nation or another oppressed them. They had been carried into exile by the Babylonians. And even then in Jesus' day, they were under the domination of the Roman Empire. But as descendants of Abraham, they claimed spiritual freedom as their own.

Didn't they have the commandments from God himself given through Moses at Mt. Sinai? Didn't they have the temple as the one place of worship for the Lord God? Didn't they have the priesthood and the sacrifices as God had prescribed them? And hadn't they meticulously kept the traditions handed down to them? So they were spiritually free, so they thought. How could Jesus claim to set them free?"

[Sidebar: I can't help noticing the glare of pride embedded in the attitude of the pharisees on this point. They claim the rights of royalty attributed to the descendants of Abraham, and insist that this pedigree gives them freedom from subjection--all this while they are taxed, manipulated, and herded like cattle by the Romans. They are clearly fuzzy-minded when the subject of freedom is introduced: they think they are free because, in their tiny parochial society, they have power over their lessers, and yet, in the wide world, the Romans push them around like serfs at the bottom of the social hierarchy. They can't be talking about spiritual freedom, because spiritual freedom has nothing to do with being descended from Abraham! They seem to think that spiritual freedom is something you inherit, like property! And yet they are slaves not only to their dictatorial masters, they are slaves to pompous, arrogant, psychological postures whose only support is the hot air of their own babble. In fact, they are so dominated by the madness of their inherited attitudes that they spin round the yard like chickens in a pen, and lash out at anyone who stands in their path. People like Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. have a habit of getting in the way of hysterically gyrating madmen; there are hardly ever enough of the good guys to divert the current. Not at first, anyway. This is why we have sacrifice--this is why we NEED sacrifice.

Back to Greg Bitter:]

"That's when Jesus points out the truth:

John 8:34:

"Everyone who sins is a slave to sin." 

And as we said before, that means you and me. Don't rely on your Lutheran heritage, like some high-school trophy sitting on shelf gathering dust. That doesn't make you free. Don't rely on the fact that you got confirmed or have a Bible at home. That doesn't make you free. Don't figure that since your a member in this church you have your own ticket to freedom. And don't think that since you're not as bad as some of the people out there that you're free from sin. For if you think you have set yourself free, then you cannot, you cannot have the freedom Jesus brings.

3. What must we confess about our own power and ability?
Rather like Martin Luther stand convicted that you cannot free yourself. Martin Luther tried what a thousand years of church tradition had evolved as a way to free yourself. He became a monk and then a priest. He prayed hard, studied hard, worked hard, even afflicting his own body. Yet the harder he worked, the more he hated God for demanding so much. The harder he worked, the more the thought of death and standing before an angry judge terrified him. The harder he worked, the more he felt the chains of sin biting into his soul, holding him fast in slavery, just like a choke chain bites deeper the harder a dog pulls against it.

"Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay;
Death brooded darkly o'er me.
Sin was my torment night and day;
In sin my mother bore me.
Yet deep and deeper still I fell;
Life had become a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me."

That, too, is your confession and mine. Examine your heart against God's Ten Commandments. Have you always loved him more that you've loved your friends, your children, and your pleasures? Have you always placed his Word and command first? Have you always trusted in him, refusing to worry or complain? Has love for others filled you so much that there is no trace of selfishness, conceit, lust, bitterness, or envy in you? No, you and I are sinners who cannot free ourselves. The record of our own thoughts, feelings, words, and actions testify against us. Why add to that record by robbing God and claiming some credit for freeing ourselves?

But if freedom could not come to Martin Luther from his own works or from following church rules, how could he be freed? How could you or I be freed? Jesus gives the answer,

John 8:31, 32, 36:

"If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free . . . If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Martin Luther knew how important God's Word of truth is. That's why he translated the Bible into the language of the people. That's why he himself kept studying that word no matter how learned others thought he was. That's why he preached and taught throughout his life. That's why he wrote the Catechism as a summary of the truths that God's Word teaches, so that every family could learn it in their own homes."

[Sidebar: (Wikipedia) Luther's Small Catechism (Der Kleine Katechismus) was written by Martin Luther and published in 1529 for the training of children. Luther's Small Catechism reviews the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the Office of the Keys and Confession and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It is included in the Book of Concord as an authoritative statement of what Lutherans believe. The Small Catechism is widely used today in Lutheran churches as part of youth education and Confirmation.]


"Stay in the Word as a true disciple so that you do not lose your freedom.
So we've seen what sets us free from slavery to sin. The truth. We've seen where to find the truth. God's Word, the Bible. We've seen what to do with the truth of God's Word. Stay and remain in it. But what is this truth that sets us free, this truth that God's Word reveals, this truth that we want to remain in? What is it?

3) What is the truth that God's Word reveals to set you free?
Consider Jesus last words in the text,

John 8:36:

"If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

The truth that sets you free is the truth that points you to the Son, Jesus Christ, our God and Savior.

And what do you see as the truth opens your eyes and the light of Jesus shines in? We see that Jesus is God the Son who came from the Father to rescue us, to deliver us, to set us free from slavery to sin. Jesus had been telling the crowd this. That's why some believed in him. He had told them,

John 8:23-24 :

"You are from below; I am from above.
You are of this world; I am not of this world.
I told you that you would die in your sins;
if you do not believe that I am he,
you will indeed die in your sins."

He came from above, from the Father, for he is God the Son who the Father sent to set us free from death and slavery to sin.

Jesus pointed the crowd to his coming death on the cross as he told them,

John 8:28:

"When you have lifted up the Son of Man,
then you will know that I am He." 

Jesus is that sacrifice of atonement as the Apostle Paul teaches.
Only his holy blood, the blood of God, could redeem and ransom us. Only his bloody sacrifice and death could turn God's anger away from us and make us at one with God by the forgiveness purchased with Jesus' precious blood. That's the truth the sets you free.

For just as surely as the crucified Jesus came back to life, so surely has our God freely justified you. For Jesus' resurrection declares that God has counted Jesus' righteousness, his perfectly right life, on your record. Therefore, God the just judge gives the verdict that you have been acquitted based on the record of Jesus' righteousness. This is the righteousness that comes from God. This is the righteousness that is apart from the law and all that we do. This is the righteousness of Jesus Christ that the truth reveals through God's Word to set you free.

Jesus has broken your chains. Jesus has set you free. Sin can no longer condemn you who believe. This is the truth the Holy Spirit led Martin Luther to see in Scripture and to believe and teach it. Listen again to what the Apostle Paul wrote,

Romans 3:21-25:
"21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;"


That's the truth that set Martin Luther free -- set him from slavery to sin, free from the terror of death. That's the truth that sets you free. Cherish it. Remain in it. Shout out: Free at last! Free at last! Thank Jesus Christ, I'm free at last!"

Now this sermon, for all its virtues, begins with a somewhat narrow-minded generalization--the sweeping blanket statement:

"Now we could call both men freedom fighters. But they fought for very different kinds of freedom. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for the kind of freedom we call civil rights.

Martin Luther, on the other hand . . . was concerned about a far worse slavery. For you see, physical slavery, even the worst kind filled with abuse and beatings, physical slavery ends at death, but not the slavery that troubled Martin Luther. Rather than freeing a person from this slavery, death brought a whole new level of pain and torture, namely hell."

It is an obvious point: Martin Luther spoke and wrote about spiritual freedom, Dr. King spoke and wrote about political freedom. But I think, in Pastor Bitter's breezy analysis, he is forgetting a couple of things:

1. on the one hand, Martin Luther King Jr., as a devout Christian, never lost sight of the spiritual motivation behind the simple RIGHTNESS of racial equality--he was always conscious that it was the inherited prejudices of the White South in 1965, just like the inherited prejudices of the Jews in AD 33, that were the cause of so much perverted, wrong action; thus, his political campaign was directed at obtaining freedom for his people by ending the wrong actions of the white aggressors;

2. on the other hand, Pastor Bitter seems also to have forgotten the 95 Theses Luther nailed to the door of the church in 1517, that brought about one of the most profound social changes in the history of Europe, if not the world; the Reformation had deep, deep social repercussions, it cost many, many lives, (at least as many as the war for civil rights), and brought about far-reaching consequences that had a direct impact on, for instance, the history of the United States. I'm going out on a limb here, but you might even say that the social revolution brought about by Martin Luther had a direct bearing on the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.!


So, to say that Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. fought for different kinds of freedom, is an oversimplification at best, and a lying, prejudicial distortion of the truth at worst. Freedom from the slavery of sin MUST encompass both inner and outer manifestations of spiritual bondage. Perhaps the distinction can be made that spiritual freedom is a personal freedom that just touches the subjective reality of the individual; but remember what we said last week:

"Truth separates you from the crowd; giving up your preconceptions leaves you without props. Truth is not silent, nor is it passive; even if we try to keep truth a secret, it shows on our faces, and betrays us to men. This is why Jesus could not have escaped the cross even if He had wanted to: the truth excites the vengeance of people who are committed to their own private or group lies, and they WILL revenge themselves on those who threaten the comfort of those lies. Jesus threatened the Pharisees' complacent self-righteousness--it was a fated conflict written in the stars; and the outcome was pre-ordained."
Dedication to the truth sets you apart, and often sets you in opposition to flagrant violations of right action. Consider all the martyrs who died for a truth that was invisible or perniciously threatening to some parochial group of self-deceivers. As I said above:
People like Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. have a habit of getting in the way of hysterically gyrating madmen; there are hardly ever enough of the good guys to divert the current. Not at first, anyway. This is why we have sacrifice--this is why we NEED sacrifice.

The following is a excerpt from sermon by Pope John Paul II on the ethics of freedom:

Life in the Spirit Based on True Freedom


Continuing his weekly catechesis, the Holy Father addressed the following message to the numerous pilgrims gathered in the Paul VI Hall.
1. St. Paul writes in the Letter to the Galatians:

Gal 5:13-14:
"For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" 

We have already dwelled on this enunciation. However, we are taking it up again today, in connection with the main argument of our reflections.
Although the passage quoted refers above all to the subject of justification, here, however, the Apostle aims explicitly at driving home the ethical dimension of the "body-Spirit" opposition, that is, the opposition between life according to the flesh and life according to the Spirit. Here he touches the essential point, revealing the anthropological roots of the Gospel ethos. If the whole law (the moral law of the Old Testament) is fulfilled in the commandment of charity, the dimension of the new Gospel ethos is nothing but an appeal to human freedom. It is an appeal to its fuller implementation and, in a way, to fuller "utilization" of the potential of the human spirit.

Freedom linked with command to love
2. It might seem that Paul was only contrasting freedom with the law and the law with freedom. However, a deeper analysis of the text shows that in Galatians St. Paul emphasizes above all the ethical subordination of freedom to that element in which the whole law is fulfilled, that is, to love, which is the content of the greatest commandment of the Gospel. "Christ set us free in order that we might remain free," precisely in the sense that he manifested to us the ethical (and theological) subordination of freedom to charity, and that he linked freedom with the commandment of love. To understand the vocation to freedom in this way ("You were called to freedom, brethren": Gal 5:13), means giving a form to the ethos in which life "according to the Spirit" is realized. The danger of wrongly understanding freedom also exists. Paul clearly points this out, writing in the same context: "Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another" (ibid.).

Bad use of freedom
3. In other words: Paul warns us of the possibility of making a bad use of freedom. Such a use is in opposition to the liberation of the human spirit carried out by Christ and contradicts that freedom with which "Christ set us free." Christ realized and manifested the freedom that finds its fullness in charity, the freedom thanks to which we are servants of one another.

In other words, that freedom becomes a source of new works and life according to the Spirit. The antithesis and, in a way, the negation of this use of freedom takes place when it becomes a pretext to live according to the flesh. Freedom then becomes a source of works and of life according to the flesh. It stops being the true freedom for which "Christ set us free," and becomes "an opportunity for the flesh," a source (or instrument) of a specific yoke on the part of pride of life, the lust of the eyes, and the lust of the flesh. Anyone who lives in this way according to the flesh, that is, submits—although in a way that is not quite conscious, but nevertheless actual—to the three forms of lust, especially to the lust of the flesh, ceases to be capable of that freedom for which "Christ set us free." He also ceases to be suitable for the real gift of himself, which is the fruit and expression of this freedom."

I find this whole piece to be very, very deep, especially the part about:

"Christ set us free in order that we might remain free," precisely in the sense that he manifested to us the ethical (and theological) subordination of freedom to charity, and that he linked freedom with the commandment of love."

As we have seen repeatedly, our practical theology manifests in relative levels of hierarchy, just like everything else in the implicate order of the universe; thus, it is no surprise to see the words: "subordination of freedom to charity". The sense, here, is not that charity is more important than freedom, but merely that CHARITY MUST COME FIRST, just as faith precedes belief, and belief precedes understanding. Just as the Father precedes the Son. But let us remember that all these spiritual precedents lead to a final thing: right action; let us, in imitation of the Christ, perform what is right, as dictated by the communications of Jesus from the heart of God to our own hearts. Let us see, once again, that our whole argument revolves around the pivotal point of Jesus, who sets us free through His mediation between our puny human minds and the mighty Word of the Father. Let us find our true freedom in that.

Let us pray: Jesus let Your Word be our sword and shield. Let us be slow to attack what we don't understand, and let us be quick to uphold the truth that flows from Your mouth to ours. Though we be punished by the wicked and accused by Satan's lies, let us exult in the truth, and cherish the freedom of right action, in an ecstatic eternal moment, even though the blows of evil men may strike us down in the next. Amen


Sunday, September 16, 2012

22 And the Truth Shall Make You Free-1


John 8:31-32
"31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

We have extravagantly bandied about the word truth in these past many sermons. We have pondered what it is, how to say, and it how to feel it.  We have concluded that the DOING of the truth reveals the truth to us.

In the words of St. Augustine we have learned:

"All men indeed perceive that “shall know” is the same thing as “shall understand:” but that the saying, “If any man be willing to do His will,” refers to believing, all do not perceive; to perceive this more accurately, we need the Lord Himself for expounder, to show us whether the doing of the Father's will does in reality refer to believing. . . . . ."

We have thus contemplated the moral imagination as the source of right action, and have concluded, from the above, that right action is the realization of, an outer articulation of, an inner image created in the heart by faith.

Robert Brault:

"Without faith there is no truth, for that is all the truth is or ever was."  

Truth, experienced through faith, is an inarticulate feeling to be found only in the "cloud of unknowing". Its resonance is at a spiritual depth that cannot be fully appreciated by reason. So how does it make us free? In order to answer this question, we must first examine its parameters, beginning with some articulate estimation of the character of freedom.

It sounds easy at first: freedom is the ability to do anything we want, to get anything we want--well duh. Freedom is the absence of restriction--nothin' is stoppin' us from nothin', nosiree! But what do we really want? And how do we know what we really want? Many of us spend our lives chasing after goals which, when achieved, turn out to be less rewarding than what we thought they were going to be, or, worse, to be the OPPOSITE of what we thought they were going to be. In The Screwtape Letters, a new arrival in Hell plaintively admits, "I now see that in entire life I never did what I OUGHT or what I LIKED." Clearly, the truth of this man's deepest desires was unknown to him until it was too late.

Perhaps it is truth, our own personal truth that allows us to really know what we want, and thus it is that the mere knowing empowers us to get it--what we want. But the question of what we want bears directly on the question of our relationship to the Son, and through Him to the Father. Do our puny little human brains ever truly know what we want, or are we led, hypnotized, from one glittering bauble to another, always tempted by the illusions of materiality, always fooled by the false truths of the world? Is freedom the realization of a dream, or is the dream one more articulate idea that, like light  reflected on the surface of a puddle, makes it appear deeper than it really is?

Perhaps freedom is like identity and will--the more we surrender, the more we find our true selves. This is the principle that C. S. Lewis propounds over and over again: that the giving over of our personal will to the will of the Father, rather than diminishing us, simply makes us more and more our true individual, anomalous selves. God, as a "super-personalized Personality" subsumes us all under a single implicate (enfolded) umbrella. And thus, we find our true personal freedom in doing the Father's will. Do-be-do-be-do; identity and action are so intimately linked--who we are is what we do. And what our true identity is, is a single link in a long, hierarchical chain of  identities leading to the identity of the Father. Doing His will is doing our own will if we only knew it. It is the truth of this that makes us free.

CS Lewis:

"Hell is full of people who said "My will be done". Heaven is full of people who said "Thy will be done."

"Aim at heaven, and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth, and you will get neither."


Thus freedom is attained through right action--and DOING what is right is only possible when our individual will conforms to the will of the Father--a Will made plain to us through the moral imagination.

Isaiah 45:19:

"I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, `Seek me in chaos.' I the LORD speak the truth, I declare what is right."

The expression "What is right," implies action; thus, to "declare what is right" is to DO what is right. Infinite freedom of action is bestowed on the soul who experiences the infinity of spirit.

Now the concept of "infinite possibilities" may be overwhelming to man's fumbling, squamous mind, but the Son, being a finite focus of the infinite Father, has no trouble choosing one action over another, because that is what the Son is all about--finite manifestation of infinity in the flesh. as we read in That Hideous Strength:

"To those high creatures whose activity build what we call Nature, nothing is "natural." From their stations the essential arbitrariness (so to call it) of every actual creation is ceaselessly visible; for them there are no basic assumptions: all springs, with the willful beauty of a jest or a tune, from that miraculous moment of self-limitation wherein the Infinite, rejecting a myriad possibilities, throws out of Himself the positive elected invention."

Thus, the infinite made manifest in the finite is the essence of right action. As Ramana Maharshi says:

"There is no Truth.  There is only the truth within each moment."

  
"There is no truth", meaning that truth, like a photon, cannot be pinned down to a single moment of time, but is always evolving through a kaleidoscopic continuum of "elected inventions," always choosing, yet never chosen.

To continue this hit parade of "truth definitions" John 14:6 says:

"Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me."

[Sidebar: When I was first converting to Christianity, I got a terrific insight into this text from a doctoral thesis written a long time ago by a friend of mine in California--the insight has to do with the dual nature of Jesus as human and divine. My friend made the comment that the divine personality of the Son of God was a finite focus of the infinite God personality; he said that when Jesus speaks of Himself as the Son of God, as the ONLY way, truth, and life, it is not Jesus the man speaking, but the spirit of God, the I AM Presence, speaking THROUGH Jesus. Thus the Messiah is not necessarily a human God, but a merely man POSSESSED by the spirit of God. This argument made a lot of sense to me back then, when I was still quibbling about the impossibility of all those little miracles in the Bible--when I was still unaccepting of many of the basic tenets of Christian theology, like the virgin birth, Lazarus rising from the dead, and everlasting life.

Now, of course, these miracles are not in the least troubling to me, and I can still live with them or without them--I find  there to be no difference between the mythological truth and the actual truth. The mind-boggling idea of the infinite focussed in space and time cannot be understood, but only experienced through faith in the cloud of unknowing. The agnostic may well question the divinity of Jesus, a man who appears to emerge at an arbitrary moment in time; but if we consider that, "In the beginning was the Word", and that the term I AM is the name of God that Moses learned way back in:

Exodus 3:14:

"God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, `I AM has sent me to you.'"

it is a lot easier to accept the concept that the Messiah has ALWAYS existed, and that His choice to manifest in human focus, at one time rather than another, does compromise the basic mystery of the event, nor its power to open the gates of heaven.]

Psalm 45:8:

"The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth."

John 1: 14 :

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father."

Recall the sermon by St. Augustine we read recently:

"Therefore, to speak briefly, beloved, it seems to me that the Lord Jesus Christ said, “My doctrine is not mine,” meaning the same thing as if He said, “I am not from myself.” For although we say and believe that the Son is equal to the Father, and that there is not any diversity of nature and substance in them, that there has not intervened any interval of time between Him that begets and Him that is begotten, nevertheless we say these things, while keeping and guarding this, that the one is the Father, the other the Son.

But Father He is not if He have not a Son, and Son He is not if He have not a Father: but yet the Son is God from the Father; and the Father is God, but not from the Son. The Father of the Son, not God from the Son: but the other is Son of the Father, and God from the Father. For the Lord Christ is called Light from Light. The Light then which is not from Light, and the equal Light which is not from Light, are together one Light not two Lights."

Remember that the truth of the Son is the truth of the Father; therefore, the mediation of our prayers by Jesus Christ is the surest way to obtain wise counsel when difficult choices of right actions are to be made.

John 1:17:
"For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

Between grace and truth there is a subtle but deep connection--just as truth originates in the cloud of unknowing, manifesting as faith, so grace is a mystery--a flow of nonjudgmental love spilling into us not from the mind of God, but from the heart of God.

The next few scriptures bear on the quality of truth and warn us that Satan may tempt us with false truths all the time. From this pulpit I have constantly cautioned us against using verbal structures as the basis for right action. Words are never more than pretty lies, and all lies originate in Hell.

John 8:44:

"You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

1 John 1: 6:

"If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth;"

1 John 1:8:

"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

We heard this C. S. Lewis quote recently, as well:
 "For there are two things inside me...they are the animal self and the diabolical self; and the diabolical self is the worst of the two. That is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute."

Let us beware our own devil who delights in lies--lies that offer all the glamor of a glimmering, hypnotic appearance, lovely and fetching in all ways except for the fact that they won't hold up under the scrutiny of infinity. Another of my favorite sayings of Jesus, on this subject is the following from Mathew:

Matthew 11:16-17

16 But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows,
17 And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.

I love this passage because the image of kids sitting around PRETENDING is so funny! It's too bad that people who base their actions and attitudes on make-believe can do so much damage.

W. Somerset Maugham:
"Man has always sacrificed truth to his vanity, comfort and advantage.  He lives... by make-believe." 

Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
"We do not err because truth is difficult to see.  It is visible at a glance.  We err because this is more comfortable." 

Simone de Beauvoir:
"I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for truth - and truth rewarded me." 

Ralph Waldo Emerson:
"God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose.  Take which you please - you can never have both."
Neale Donald Walsch:
"There is no truth except the truth that exists within you.  Everything else is what someone is telling you."

William James:

"The greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths."  

We must concern ourselves, as much as possible with our own personal truth, expressed in out own personal language, and avoid coming to any verbal conclusions about anybody else. We must look into the cloud of unknowing with minds uncluttered with verbalizations about the world, and allow the light of heaven to spill into our hearts. Only when the light in our hearts shines through our mouths will we speak the truth, and know the truth, and share that truth with others.
  
John 16:13:

"When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come."

The Son sees the future, and, by leading us in right action, He sets up a chain of causality that affirms spirit manifesting through faith. Thus truth is prophetic. Right action is like hope: it not only brings spirit into the present by enlightening the eternal now with heavenly energy, it affirms the promised future descent of spirit into mundane reality by virtue of the essential nature of karmic causality; I mean: right action is motivated by the moral imagination which is unbounded by time, but right action still generates repercussions which spread out like waves through time endowing past, present, AND future with the radiance of truth manifested in the step-by-step progression from one plane of spiritual hierarchy to the next; I mean: every right action leads to another right action, and another, and another blending all the dimensions of time into a single implicate (enfolded) order.

The next collection of quotations deal with truth in nature. The manifestation of God may be felt permeating the essence of all His created works.


Martin H. Fischer:

"Truth is rarely writ in ink; it lives in nature." 

Charles Lamb:

"Truth is no Doctoresse, she takes no degrees at Paris or Oxford... but oftentimes to such an one as myself, an Idiota or common person, no great things, melancholizing in woods where waters are, quiet places by rivers, fountains, whereas the silly man expecting no such matter, thinketh only how best to delectate and refresh his mynde continually with Natura her pleasaunt scenes, woods, water-falls, or Art her statelie gardens, parks, terraces, Belvideres, on a sudden the goddesse herself Truth has appeared, with a shyning lyghte, and a sparklyng countenance, so as yee may not be able lightly to resist her."
Robinson Jeffers:

"Science and mathematics
Run parallel to reality, they symbolize it, they squint at it,
They never touch it:  consider what an explosion
Would rock the bones of men into little white fragments and unsky the world
If any mind for a moment touch truth."

Werner Heisenberg, from Physics and Philosophy:

"It will never be possible by pure reason to arrive at some absolute truth."

 Remember the Englishman, ‪Anselm of Canterbury‬ whose so-called "ontological proof of the existence of God", (proof of the existence of God based on WHAT IS), relies on reason, but not language-based reason, but rather, faith-based reason:

"Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that thou mayest understand."

From Wikipedia:

"Anselm held that faith precedes reason, but that reason can expand upon faith. The groundwork of Anselm's theory of knowledge is contained in the tract De Veritate, where he affirms the existence of an absolute truth in which all other truth participates. This absolute truth, he argues, is God, who is the ultimate ground or principle both of things and of thought. The notion of God becomes the foreground of Anselm's theory, so it is necessary first to make God clear to reason and be demonstrated to have real existence."

Clearly, there can be no more "real existence" to the human mind than existence in nature, and yet to speak of "real existence in the human mind" reminds us not of nature, but of the many logical quandaries of Kant who was never satisfied with the evidence of his senses, but who put many filters between his sense experience and his inner psychological experience. As we have seen, in the authors quoted above, ontological materialism does not cancel out a sense of spiritual wonder at creation, this sense of wonder that cannot be contained by any science. 

The next group of quotes concern themselves with the effects truth may have on us when seen by the world. Truth separates you from the crowd; giving up your preconceptions leaves you without props. Truth is not silent, nor is it passive; even if we try to keep truth a secret, it shows on our faces, and betrays us to men. This is why Jesus could not have escaped the cross even if He had wanted to: the truth excites the vengeance of people who are committed to their own private or group lies, and they WILL revenge themselves on those who threaten the comfort of those lies. Jesus threatened the Pharisees' complacent self-righteousness--it was a fated conflict written in the stars; and the outcome was pre-ordained.

Arthur Schopenhauer:

"Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized.  In the first, it is ridiculed, in the second it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident."  

Galatians 4: 16:

"Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?"

Shoseki:

"Truth only reveals itself when one gives up all preconceived ideas."  

Oliver Wendell Holmes:

"Truth is the breath of life to human society.  It is the food of the immortal spirit.  Yet a single word of it may kill a man as suddenly as a drop of prussic acid."

James A. Garfield

"The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable." 
Aldous Huxley:

"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad." 


Many years ago I wrote this little parable for a completely different purpose than the one for which I am using it here; it was about muscular tension in violin playing. Nevertheless, the idea of walking with an unnecessary cane my apply to the mind as well as to the muscle:

 The Land Where Everybody Walked with a Cane

     Once upon a time, in a far country high up in the faraway mountains, there was a land where everybody walked with a cane.  The reason they walked with a cane is unclear: maybe there was an old grandfather in their distant past whom they imitated out of respect, or perhaps it had started out as a disguise against foreign invaders.  Anyway, for centuries, in this isolated country the people had all walked with canes.   The little toddlers had their baby canes,  then they graduated to their kindergarten canes, their middle school, high school, and college canes, and then their walking-down-the-aisle- to-get-married canes. They never thought about it because this is how they had always done it, and life went on with everybody hobbling around leaning on a stick.
     One day an explorer appeared on the horizon, lost in the mountains, and strode down into their little world on two feet.  They took him in, fed him, befriended him, and tried to give him a cane since they noticed he didn't have one. He told them,  "Thank you very much, I don't need a cane, and by the way why are you all leaning on them?"
     They didn't quite know what to say, since no one had ever asked this question before. "Well, uh, gee, we, uh, always walk with our canes, we can't walk without our canes, if God had meant us to walk without canes He would have given us three legs, we can't walk without our canes, WE CAN'T WALK WITHOUT OUT CANES!"
     Well, this explorer wasn't buying it: so one night while they were all asleep, he crept into everybody's room, grinch-like, and stole all their canes.  When they woke up in the morning, they had to crawl out of bed and struggle to the street on wobbly legs to discover the meaning of this catastrophe. There in the square stood the explorer standing before a great bonfire, where a great pile of canes was cheerfully crackling up in smoke.  The people were enraged, they were hysterical, they were petrified. 
    But as they approached the fire to try to save some of their equipment, somebody noticed, "Hey, we're walking!" "Hey, we're walking without our canes!" From a wobbly perspective they looked around and saw each other for the first time standing upright on two legs with both hands free.  It took a moment, but in almost no time all they were dancing, and prancing, and striding about the square on unencumbered happy feet, free at last!

This is how the truth makes you free--by liberating you from the shackles you think you need.

Now the act of giving up your cane is not a trivial one--it can hurt like nothing your imagination can possibly prepare you for; but sometimes throwing off your self-administered shackles, like tearing the scab off an old wound, is the only path to freedom. Lean on Jesus and you will get some support, but, as C. S. Lewis says in The Screwtape Letters, you must ultimately do it on you own:

"Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs-- to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot 'tempt' to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles."
To me, it is not a question worth asking, "Does truth really make us free?" Rather we should cherish the choices we have made dictated by faith. We must accept the freedom of the cross to which we have been pre-ordained, and plunge into the glory of the narrow path of infinite freedom.

The benediction today is by Rabindranath Tagore. Let us pray:

"Time after time I came to your gate with raised hands, asking for more and yet more.
You gave and gave, now in slow measure, now in sudden excess.
I took some, and some things I let drop; some lay heavy on my hands; some I made into playthings and broke them when tired; till the wrecks and the hoard of your gifts grew immense, hiding you, and the ceaseless expectation wore my heart out.
Take, oh take–has now become my cry.
Shatter all from this beggar’s bowl: put out this lamp of the importunate watcher: hold my hands, raise me from the still-gathering heap of your gifts into the bare infinity of your uncrowded presence."Amen.











 












Monday, September 10, 2012

21 Cast the First Stone

As a person who has lived his life outside the fold, (having been condemned by the crowd, from earliest memory, for being different), the story of Jesus and the prostitute is of much personal interest. Of course, I lived much of my life as guilty as the pharisees, gleefully condemning just about everybody I could think of, as a petty revenge on them all for condemning ME. The bad news is that feeling intellectually superior to people, like spiritual doubt, is one of the hardest habits to break. I'm sure if I stood up here and announced that I had completely conquered my self-righteous, judgmental behaviors, my nose would begin to grow out past the pulpit and into the street--but I am trying. And, like all the other messages I have given from this spot, I am most concerned with training the negative language out of myself, since it is the language that we use to generate the spiritual infection in ourselves and transmit it to others.

One of the most interesting features of the story is that it is the only episode from Jesus's recorded life in which He WRITES something. It is most interesting to consider the use Jesus puts to writing this one time. Here's the story:

John 8:1-11

8 Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

I chose this text for its emphasis on being nonjudgmental, and, yes, my axe to grind is against the large number of fundamentalist Christians who seem to me to make a career out of judging other people. However, I did expect to find a large number of online articles focussing on the non-judgmentality of the passage--imagine my disappointment when I found article after article emphasizing exactly the opposite; author after author mentions Jesus's forgiveness of the prostitute, but warns us to not be TOO forgiving--sin is still sin, and sin must have its fair (sic) punishment. How these people cling to their fear of violations of the law, when Jesus came to them to free them from the law. How unforgiving they remain in the face of Jesus's magnificent example of forgiveness!

The first author whose comments we will consider is Guy Cramer from his online article, An Adulteress Faces Jesus; a Christian forgery? As you will see from Cramer's remarks, even many of the church's founding father's sought to expunge this episode, one of the most famous and moving of Jesus's career, from the Holy record, so committed were they to judging the unfortunate prostitute:

"The following passage from John is usually accompanied with the footnote that most scholars believe that this verse was added to John hundreds of years after the book of John was completed. The reasoning is that in the earliest manuscripts of John these verses cannot be found. It is not until the 5th century manuscripts in which this passage can be found. Does this passage belong in the Bible?
This passage is not a forgery, what really happened was that some of the early manuscripts omitted this passage because the passage was misinterpreted as false doctrine.
This passage can be found in translations that date from the second century. This can be confirmed by the comments on this passage by the Early Church teachers which range from Didascalia (third century) to Saint Augustine (430 AD)."

Can you imagine the Bible without this story? The thought chills me. Imagine what other stories of Jesus there might have been that did not escape the cutting room floor, because people were to more committed to their own narrow-minded views than they were to being instructed by the wisest Man whoever lived?
The following is from Life Coach and Success Coach a pretend Platonic dialogue by R. Robin Cote:
"Q:   It's not only possible, is almost certain that we don't know everything.
R:   Then let me ask you this:  Have you ever been wrong?
.
Q:   Of course!
R:   While you were being wrong, did you know you were wrong?
.
Q:  Of course not!   That's the essence of being wrong.
R:   Is it possible that you are wrong about something, right now?  Is it possible that something you think is true is actually false and/or something you believe is false is actually true?
.
Q:  That's certainly possible.
R:   Then the next time you think you have THE ONE AND ONLY correct answer about anything, stop for a minute and consider the possibility that you just might be wrong. "

As simple-minded as this little dialogue is, it certainly hits the nail on the head about judgmentality; people always want to be right, but too often they want to be right for the sake of being right, not for the sake of the truth. As we have mentioned many times, people experience a kind of peace and comfort when they safely ensconce themselves in the arms of redundancy. The ego gratification of being right is sublime indeed, it's just not that reliable a sublimity; it's like a drug--when it wears off, you find yourself worse off than when you indulged in it.  I hate to remove one of the few props that people have erected to protect themselves from the onslaughts of a cruel and confusing world, but it is my duty to remind them that nowhere in the Bible does it say, "The comfortable shall inherit the Earth." Would that it did! I could use a break, too! But I fear that our break-time is reserved for our retirement to our heavenly home; before we get there, there is just too dang much to do, and facing the truth, at whatever cost, is at the top of the list.

The following is from JUDGING THE JUDGES by Ray C. Stedman:
"Not one of them could have remotely anticipated how Jesus would solve this. What he did was to stoop down and begin to write with his finger on the ground.
How much would you give to know what he wrote? This has intrigued scholars and students through the ages. How we wish we knew what he wrote! Many have guessed at it.

Once, reading in the prophet Jeremiah, I ran across a verse in the 17th chapter that struck me as possibly suggesting what Jesus wrote:
"O Lord, the hope of Israel,
 all who forsake thee shall be put to shame; 
 those who torn away from thee 
shall be written in the earth,
 for they have   forsaken the Lord, 
 the fountain of living water."{Jer 17:13 RSV}
That suggests that Jesus wrote their names on the ground on that occasion.
While these scribes and Pharisees were standing there, stunned, Jesus stooped down and began to write. Again, we are not told what he wrote. When you realize that this is the only time recorded in the Scriptures that Jesus ever wrote anything, you cannot help but wish that someone had preserved what he wrote.

My guess is that he wrote the four words, written once before by the finger of God, in the history of Israel. In the book of Daniel there is the story of King Belshazzar who put on a great feast and drunken revels and debauchery of every type was going on. Finally, the king resorted to the ultimate blasphemy of using in the revelry the sacred vessels that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem. Suddenly a great hand appeared and wrote four words on the wall. The king turned ashen, and all the lords and courtiers were stunned and silent. They did not know the meaning of the Persian words,

"MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN,"

which appeared, so they called in the prophet Daniel to interpret them. His interpretation was,

"You are weighed in the balance and found wanting," {Dan 5:25-29}."

The following is from Cast the first stone by Ronnie Smith:

"Luke 6: 37-42
"Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you."
39 And He spoke a parable to them: "Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?
40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.
41 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye?
42 Or how can you say to your brother, "Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye. "

We live in a day when everyone loves to Judge.
· The trial of O.J. Simpson in 1995 opened a door.
· Everyone has their opinion on weather O.J. is guilty.
· Regardless if O.J. is guilty or not, there’s an all seeing eye that watches everything we do.
The church is the most critical group of others.
· We stab and push our opinion and don’t thing anything about popping off about someone else.
· Who are we to judge?
· What right do we have to condemn someone to hell, when we ourselves deserve Hell.
· When I get to Heaven, one of the questions I want to ask (other then Adam to show me his belly so I can see if he had a belly button) is to Jesus, What did you write in the sand?
· Could it have been the Ten Commandments,
· Or maybe the names of some of the men that he knew had been with this woman."


This is the second source I've mentioned suggesting this interpretation. It is of interest because of the question many people have asked: "where was the man she was sleeping with?" That man was just as deserving of being stoned under the law as the woman.

Now it is clear from the context that this woman is not just cheating on her husband, or cheating with somebody else's husband, she is the neighborhood prostitute whom the Pharisees have chosen to single out on this occasion for the purpose of testing and tempting Jesus. The man she was "caught in the act of adultery" with, was probably a pharisee sent into her place of business to set her up--that's why he is not accused along with her. In fact, she had probably already slept with half the men in town, fulfilling a social function considered necessary and acceptable by enough people for her to make a regular living at it. The scene in Zefirelli's movie Jesus of Nazareth shows Jesus waiting in a very long line waiting to see the prostitute Mary Magdalene. I'm not trying to open an historical can of worms here, but I'm merely pointing out that big cities have prostitutes, and have always had prostitutes, and the point of the story was never about adultery, but THE LAW.

Now if it is a question of THE LAW, that missing man is in deep trouble if the point is pressed too far; furthermore, it is likely that if Jesus had vocally accused any of the men who had used this woman, they would have found themselves in a quite precarious position vis a vis THE LAW. Therefore, far from merely pushing the guilt button on these men, Jesus was using their own judgmental small-mindedness against them by threatening to blow the whistle on any of them whose names were written in the sand. That would have REALLY pissed some people off!

I love the gentle face of Jesus, meek and mild, but don't ever think Jesus was a pussy-cat! He overthrew the tables of the money-lenders, He threatened the Pharisees with eternal damnation on more than one occasion, and, here, He threatens some low-minded vindictive scum with a taste of their own medicine! Hardly pussy-cat behavior. Still, you have to admire the under-the-table elegance of it. Jesus was so skilled at getting things done without making a fuss. He was SUCH a clever dude!

Remember that sexual sins are very high on this society's list of taboos, and always have been. Thus, it is easy to understand why the founding fathers in 400 AD were conflicted about this story. To put the matter in some perspective, C. S. Lewis says the following, in his book Mere Christianity:

"If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity (sexual sin) as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual. The pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me...they are the animal self and the diabolical self; and the diabolical self is the worst of the two. That is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But of course it is better to be neither!"

The following is from the Eurasia Review Newsletter:‘To Cast The First Stone’ – OpEd
"Terence Copley, a religious education scholar, said, “all human beings are good and bad morally. In many, perhaps most human beings there are tendencies both toward goodness and toward badness though one often predominates over the other. Humankind, in so far as it has a collective identity, shares this dual tendency too.” Another point of view on this issue worth considering is by C.S. Lewis, a scholar and a theologian. He argues that people are not good or bad based on their actions, but rather by how they utilize their “raw material”, which consists of their upbringing and psychological makeup. This is why we shouldn’t judge people as “good” or “evil” because some information is always missing."

I thought of yet another reason why the prostitute should not be judged: it has to do with the missing man. Remember that this whole affair (ha ha) was a group effort engineered by the Pharisees to ensnare Jesus in some technicality of law, and the missing man was part of this group; they cooked up this scheme together. I mean to call attention to the sad fact that many of the worst sins are GROUP efforts. Obviously, adultery takes two, Adam and Eve were two, Bonnie and Clyde were two; indeed, there have been many, many pairs of sinners who used each other as false mirrors of the truth to justify their evil collusions. But just think of the thousands of mob and gang members who have used acceptance of each other to justify the madness in their own individually diseased hearts! Think of the millions of Nazis who felt righteous hatred for an entire race of people they did not even know! Think of the Ku Klux Klan! Think of either of the American political parties, who seem to have no concept of the general good, but only what is good for their insulated little conclave; they have always seemed to work, not for the good of the people, but only in support of some abstract ideology that touches the people in only the remotest sense--just like so many Christians who have proselytized not for God but for their own private street gang.

All these people somehow feel that they are doing the right thing, because somehow, if everybody else is doing it it must be right. But remember Kierkegaard and his rejection of the CROWD, as a fictitious non-entity; remember that one of his primary theses was that knowledge is imparted to men ONE AT A TIME. Group consensus, whether it is ultimately right or wrong, passes over the individual, and thus leaves the individual absorbed into a consciousness that is not his own, that can never be real to him. Thus, the prostitute is a victim of a group consensus arrived through group error; and the group error, in a way, absolves the members of the group of responsibility for their individual error, because nobody really knows who thought up the wrong idea first! Obviously, the Pharisees are hypocrites for judging the prostitute, but we become hypocrites if we go too far in judging the Pharisees! How can we judge either the prostitute, OR the Pharisees, when both thought they were doing what was right? Remember some of Jesus's last words as he hung on the cross:

"Father forgive them for they know not what they do."
                     Luke23:34

Does this mean that wrong action is right if we think it is right? Maybe. But the big lesson here is to be on guard for the danger of ever being absolutely sure you are right about anything, because being right puts you in a superior position to those who disagree with you, and a superior position points the road to Hell. On my wall I have a slogan that I wrote many years ago:

"Anybody who looks down on somebody else is hanging upside down."

My last quote for the day is from  sermon by Martin Luther King Jr.:

"On one occasion however we find Jesus failing to condemn a person who has committed an obvious sin, and we wonder why our discussion for the morning grows out out of this situation Why did Jesus go beyond condemnation on this occasion.

1    In his assessment of sins, her sin was no worse than the sins of those who sought to stone her, Don't mistake the argument-- Jesus is not making light of adultery, but He looked at the Pharisees--how they boasted that they the followed the law from
the dotting of an I to the crossing of a T. They could say superciliously, "I thank thee Lord that I am not like other men."    And as he looked deeper he saw their tragic pride, their poignant hypocrisy. And Jesus is saying all of this is as bad or worse than adultery. Here were these pompous, self-righteous, arrogant Pharisees standing up ready to stone this woman. They were guilty of the gravest sin that one can commit, and that is the sin of feeling that one is above the capacity for sin.   

How many of us are ready to stone our contemporaries. We too often have something of the Pharisee in us. We so easily see the faults of others. We are so ready to condemn. Yet we never stop to see that some of the sins we are committing are just as bad. Pride, bad temper, refusing to make up a quarrel, spreading lies, indulging in malicious gossip, mental cruelty and social injustice are all terrible sins that we too often think lightly of.   

How we turn up our noses at those who commit sins like stealing or drunkenness or murder or crimes of the criminal courts. We think that we should never be tempted to commit them. Surely it comes as a shock to hear Christ saying, "But you do things which are far worse. "

You might not rob a bank, but you steal others good names. You might not be a drunkard, but you are drunk with hate, jealousy. If our sins were punished in society by Christ's assessment, all of us would be in jail. Jesus is not making light of adultery, but he is pricking the consciences of men and compelling them to see the gravity of all sin.

2    A second reason why Jesus did not condemn the woman was because she had already condemned herself. The object of condemnation is to produce a sense of guilt, then of penitence, and thus to inaugurate a new beginning.

Jesus was continually condemning the Pharisees because they felt no sense of guilt. They thought themselves the moral examples which all should emulate The woman had a burning and terrible sense of guilt Further condemnation would have been unnecessary and cruel.

How we Christians have often been cruel at this point. Let us be slow to condemn others. Most of the people we meet in daily life are not hardened hypocrites demanding fierce words. Most of the people we meet are not like the Pharisees thinking too highly of themselves, but they think too little of themselves. They need to be given new confidence in their power to do the good. They need not our condemnation, but our help.

As Jung says in the last chapter of his great work, Modem Man In Search of a Soul:

"Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. I am the oppressor of the person I condemn, not his friend and fellow sufferer.    Modern man has heard enough about guilt and sin. He is sorely beset by his own bad conscience and wants rather to learn how he is to reconcile himself with his own nature, how he is to love the enemy in his own heart and call the wolf his brother.

In the private interview a psychologist must always learn to identify himself with the patient, walking along the same road with him, never condemning or being shocked, being willing to understand how the patient got into the distress which troubles him."

Notice Jesus final words to this  woman “Neither do I condemn thee, Go and sin no more” He bids her to look at the future, and not to the past. We are to concentrate on the heights we are determined to attack, not look back into the depth in which he once wallowed."

Thus, our sincere quest for truth must be with a vision directed ever upward, not backward onto the affairs of other men. Other men's business is their business not ours. We must concern ourselves, as much as possible with our own personal truth, expressed in out own personal language, and avoid coming to any verbal conclusions about anybody else. We must look into the cloud of unknowing with minds uncluttered with verbalizations about the world, and allow the light of heaven to spill into our hearts. Only when the light in our hearts shines through our mouths will we speak the truth, and know the truth, and share that truth with others.

For benediction today, let us pray the prayer of St. Augustine:

"God our Father, we find it difficult to come to you, because our knowledge of you is imperfect.  In our ignorance we have imagined you to be our enemy; we have wrongly thought that you take pleasure in punishing our sins; and we have foolishly conceived you to be a tyrant over human life.  But since Jesus came among us, he has shown that you are loving, that you are on our side against all that stunts life, and that our resentment against you was groundless.  So we come to you, asking you to forgive our past ignorance, and wanting to know more and more of you and your forgiving love, through Jesus Christ our Lord."  Amen