A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius," in addition to articles on other related subjects and many new era Christian sermons.

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,


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."

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

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