Saturday, June 18, 2016

Pause for a moment of silence . . .

The Rabbi Jesus awoke early in the morning and walked the short distance to the temple, where he sat down with an early arriving temple crowd and began to teach.  The religious leaders  of the day thought this Rabbi to be too soft on sin, too quick to excuse behaviors prohibited by the religious laws. He would accept anybody doing anything,  That is why the crowds were coming to him.  With this teacher, anything goes.  Who wouldn't love to be judged by that rule?

As the Rabbi was teaching, several of the religious leaders appeared in the temple courtyard, walking toward him with purpose.  They were dragging a woman with them.  

"Teacher," one of the religious leaders, the spokesman of the group, addressed Jesus.  No howdy, good-morning, howyadoing, or shalom with this group.  They were all business.

"This woman was caught in the act of adultery."   The group of men looked with disdain at the woman they had captured.  I will leave it to you to ponder the questions this declaration raises.  How was she caught?  Who caught her?  Doesn't it take two to tango?  Where is the man?

"In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women,"  the group spokesman continued. A no-frills opening statement, unfortunately flawed by an omission of law.  Actually the Law of Moses was more enlightened than that.  It required that both the man and the woman be stoned to death. Equal treatment under the law.  Apparently the man had worked a deal and turned state's evidence.  But the law of Moses had been broken. The woman must be stoned to death.  The religious leader then fixed his gaze on Jesus and spoke.

"Now what do you say?"  

Jesus was silent. Bending down, he doodled in the dirt with his finger. The religious leaders continued to question the Rabbi.  Jesus said nothing. He just looked down at the dirt and doodled.

There are times when it seems God is saying nothing. God is frustratingly quiet.

We should probably give thanks for the silence, the incredible grace of God's restraint.

With our deadly stones easily within the God's reach,  God bends down and listens as we approach self-righteously with our perverted, self-serving version of the law handed down to Moses, waving it furiously in Jesus' face, explaining to the Rabbi how the law is supposed to work. 

And God is quiet.

While we angrily judge and accuse, using God as our authority, insisting that appropriate punishment be meted out for the other, God's children whom we have judged and condemned. 

And God is quiet.

While we embrace lies to support our judgments, without question, because our all important judgments cannot be supported by truth.  So we bury the truth under our pile of stones.

After awhile Jesus lifted his head and returned the gaze of the man.

"If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."  Then Jesus returned to his doodling.

Man, that is maddening, isn't it?

The accusing group of men left, not as a group, but one by one, the oldest first, then down to the youngest, till no one was left but Jesus and the woman.  Jesus stood up and asked the woman, "Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," she said.

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus said.  "Now go and leave your life of sin."

Perfect truth. Perfect grace.  The woman's life was saved by the insightful response of Jesus.  True enough.  But in our arrogance we sometimes fail to claim the other, equally significant grace.  The lives of the men who held the stones may have been saved as well. It depends on what each did later.  Like so many of the stories of Jesus, we don't know how the characters' stories ended.  Perhaps that is so we can make them our stories. Maybe we are supposed to write the endings of the stories with our lives.

I am disturbed by my own silence these days.  I am angry in my soul.  I wish that in my silence I could discover the kind of grace that Jesus offered all who were in his presence in the courtyard that morning.  But my silence is not so holy or noble.  It is mostly to avoid the pitfall of gathering my own pile of stones to throw out of anger.

But maybe Jesus was angry in the silence as well.  Maybe the period of silence was necessary, not to suppress the anger, but to allow it to be directed with God's love, grace, truth and wisdom.  So that it was possible to change the hearts of all present.

So maybe it's okay to be angry.  But not as an excuse to judge, divide, injure or kill.  Maybe it takes the energy of our anger to do the hard work of love sometimes.

I don't know.  I do know that much. But at my age, according to the story, I should be dropping my stones and walking away first, whatever that means.

Maybe I need to work on my doodling.

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