Saturday, 11 February 2017

Losing the Stones: Trump, Adultery, and Me

Recently the citizens of the United States of America elected a new President: Donald Trump. While I doubt that anyone can prove it, the negativity concerning Trump on the social media sites seems to outweigh those singing his praises. It’s interesting, in a sad sort of way, how before his presidency even really has taken off in earnest, some already think him worthy of a good old fashioned impeachment, whereas others seem ready to place a golden crown on his head (All hail, King Trump - Hmm). I’ve caught myself a time or two about to add my two-cents worth to the milieu of rhetoric spewed forth from both camps, but thankfully, for the most part, I’ve held my tongue. However, what really strikes me is the similarity of the nay-sayer’s camp with that of those who dragged a woman caught in the act of adultery before Jesus for his verdict of the situation, and more specifically, the punishment.

Is there is a correlation between Trump’s “coronation,” that poor unsuspecting woman, and you and me? “But what do You say [to do with her – what is Your sentence]?” I wonder.

Maybe a refresher of the biblical account is first in order:

“Teacher, they said, This woman has been caught in the very act of adultery. Now Moses in the Law commanded us that such [women – offenders] shall be stoned to death. But what do You say [to do with her – what is Your sentence]? This they said to try (test) Him, hoping they might find a charge on which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger. However, when they persisted with their question, He raised himself up and said, Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her. Then He bent down and went on writing on the ground with His finger. They listened to Him, and then they began going out, conscience-stricken, one by one, from the oldest down to the last one of them, till Jesus was left alone, with the woman standing there before Him in the center of the court. When Jesus raised Himself up, He said to her, Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you? She answered, No one, Lord! And Jesus said, I do not condemn you either. Go on your way and from now on sin no more.” (John 8: 4-11; Amplified)

I’ve often mused, what ever became of the man she was caught with? I mean, was he not just as guilty of committing adultery as she was? Did he not also deserve to be stoned to death? Perhaps in that male-dominated society he was strangely exempted. But that wasn’t really the point, was it? Ultimately, I doubt the accusers even really cared about the woman’s act of adultery; they were really only there in hopes of trapping Jesus. Sometimes I think political rhetoric is much the same; people don’t really care what the politician is or isn’t about, as much as they’d rather crucify those who think differently than they do on the matter in question.

Moses and Adultery.

There is an interesting parallel between this passage in John’s gospel and another passage in Numbers chapter 5 that I read recently, in which God gives Moses a “test for adultery.” I would suggest you re-read that chapter before reading on in this post. In both the Old and New Testament accounts, we see some striking similarities:

Both deal with a wife who has committed adultery, either by being physically caught in the act, or as suspected by her husband of being guilty of infidelity.

Both deal with a consequence; either being stoned to death, or cursed to the point of her body swelling up and her thigh falling away, in the case of being proven guilty.

Both deal with dust and dirt, in both the tabernacle and temple court floors, as part of the condemnation.

Both deal with holy, or living, water; in the Old Testament account, the Amplified translation suggests that it may have come from the sacred laver in the tabernacle, whereas in the New Testament, it is Jesus himself who is the giver of “living water” (John 7:38).

Both deal with a woman’s hair hanging loose, although I confess it doesn’t specifically say that in John’s account, but given that she was “caught in the very act of adultery,” it is safe to assume that her hair wasn’t neatly done up in a bun at the time, or tucked away in a hijab, during the sexual act in question.

Both offer hope, either by her body not swelling up and her thigh falling away (and by default, her being innocent of adultery), or by an encounter with Jesus. By the way, just what was this “thigh falling away?” Some commentators suggest it was little more than a polite way of suggesting that the woman would no longer be able to bear children, which in itself in that society, would not only be shameful, but essentially seen as being cursed.

Both offer hope in that neither the priest nor Jesus condemns; the priest leaves the judgment to the drinking of the dirt and holy water potion, and the accusers in the New Testament account look for a judgment from Jesus, the Living Water, who also stirs his finger through perhaps the very same dirt. What was he writing? Hmm, I wonder. Some have speculated that he literally wrote in the dirt the sins of her accusers. Maybe he did.

So what does Moses’ test for adultery, Jesus and the woman caught in the act of adultery, and political rhetoric concerning Trump (or any other politician) have in common? Maybe nothing, maybe everything; at the very least, I had a “Hmm” moment.

Law or Grace?

It’s not about whether Trump should or should not have won the presidency. It’s not about whether he’s honest or not. It’s not even about whether he is or isn’t a genuine Christian or whether he’s a “sinner” or not. It has nothing to do about whether or not a wall should be erected or admission to the USA be denied or granted to people of certain geographical areas, and by default, religions.

The way I see it all has to do with our attitudes towards others. We’re so quick to apply a legalistic test for adultery, or better yet, test for __________ (insert sin here), perhaps citing some Old Testament law-like penalty to Trump (or towards whomever we’re venting on this week).

Maybe we all need to spend a little time looking over Jesus’ shoulder as he writes in the dirt. What is he writing there? Do you see your own shortcomings listed in the dirt? Do I see mine? Yes, I see mine, and that is why I’ve started dropping my stones more and more regularly lately rather than hurl them at some poor unsuspecting adulteress (or politician), no matter how much I think they may deserve it.

In his excellent book, The Way of Grace, personal friend and author Bruce Hubbard writes:
when truth crashes into our little world, we just blame something or someone else, and insist that our own life is under control. We believe that if others would just change, then everything would be all right. In such a state, we walk in darkness and we neither see nor understand our actual condition; we are blind to our own poverty and wretchedness. We are sightless to our nakedness, and hence have no feeling of shame; our eyes of self righteousness are blinded to the fact that we are contemptible and pathetic, as we self define our world around us” (p.218; in reference to John 8: 3-11, and Revelation 3: 14, 16-20).

Ouch, and yet, he really hits the nail right on the head. Do you see yourself in there? I sure see me as being here a time or two … or ten.

Maybe it is time to understand our actual condition and practice a little more grace in the way we deal with others, and our perceived flaws in them, remembering that if we want to throw stones at others, there is ultimately no good reason that stones shouldn’t be thrown back our way too. As someone once said, when we point a (accusatory) finger at someone else, there are always four fingers pointing back at us.

How often has God been gracious to you and me? Ought we not to strive and treat our fellow man likewise, regardless of the “sin,” or pseudo-sin, we perceive them as being guilty of? But when our self-righteousness gets in the way, the truth of the matter is often very different, isn’t it?

That was the ultimate problem of the Scribes and Pharisees when they brought the woman to Jesus, but often it’s the ultimate problem with you and me as well. Thankfully at this point, I recognize that I have four fingers pointed back at me, and as such, I speak now primarily to myself: What about you, Will, are you really sinless enough to cast that first stone? Really? Hmm, I wonder.

Truth be known, I think I have some apologizing to do.

Finally, Consider This:

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1; NIV)

“The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.” (1 Timothy 2: 1-2; The Message)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Jesus; Matthew 5: 43-48; ESV)

I didn’t put that in the Bible; God did. Maybe it’s important.

Maybe, just maybe, no matter what we think of Trump (or any other political leader for that matter), he (or she) has been placed there by God in order to carry out God’s purposes, be they good, or be they evil; be they to bless the nation, or be they to curse the nation. Remember the Assyrians of old? As evil as a nation that they were, they were sent by God to the walls of Jerusalem to carry out God’s judgment on a sinful and evil and obstinate nation of Israel. What if God were once again raising a leader to punish a nation? What if this time it was America, or Canada, or __________ (insert your native country here).

Am I suggesting that I am a Donald Trump supporter? Not for a second! How about Canadian politics; am I a Justin Trudeau supporter? Not for even a fraction of a second! How about in my home province of Alberta? Do I support Premier Notley? Nope; as far as political leaders go, in my humble opinion, she’s probably the worst yet! Still, the bottom line is, we are called to pray for our leaders as opposed to cursing them. And the funny thing is, if I genuinely and earnestly pray for someone that I have a hard time appreciating, be it a political leader or some other “enemy,” my attitude toward them inevitably begins to soften. When was the last time you prayed for a political leader that you don’t agree with? Let’s be honest! I thought so! But I’m no better.

Got an enemy? Got a president or political leader you despise? Go ahead and throw those stones, if you must, or pray for them and take Jesus’ approach of raising yourself up from the dirt and saying, “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you? She answered, No one, Lord! And Jesus said, I do not condemn you either. Go on your way and from now on sin no more.” You’ll be the bigger man or woman for it.

Anyways, I’ve rambled on enough; something to think about. Peace.

Photo Credit: Alisdare Hickson; Flickr Creative Commons

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