23 March 2011

Jesus, Self-Awareness and Stones In Need of Dropping

3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  John 8.3-9

One of the best surprises I experienced during seminary was a day-long workshop on pastoral health led by Peter Steinke, a noted church consultant working in the area of congregational health.  I hated the thought of giving up a Saturday, and no, it wasn't the most enjoyable six hours of seminary, but by the end of the day I felt like it was, on the whole, a very helpful workshop.  Our time with Dr. Steinke taught me to be cautious regarding my motives and actions as a pastor, and generous but truthful when interpreting the overt and covert motives and actions of those with and to whom I'm ministering.  In other words, be self-aware, and do your best to help others understand themselves as well.

Whatever our overall interpretation of John 8 may be (and there are several possibilities left open by John's story), one thing, at least, is clear: Jesus is devastatingly good at using simple, direct language to move the mob from righteous indignation to quiet self-recrimination.  He doesn't let the Pharisees trap him in the easy answer.  He doesn't give rumor and innuendo the time of day.  He doesn't play the game of plausible deniability.  One simple, direct sentence absolutely destroys the mob's anger.  You can hear the air hissing out of their hyperventilating lungs, the soft thuds of stone after stone falling from hands forced to open by the unwilling admittance of the uncomfortable truth.

I'm not sure, however, that today's Pharisees would be so quick to drop their stones.  We are different now than we were then (and don't kid yourself - if you're a regular church-goer who thinks what God is up to is important, you are to some degree a Pharisee).  Donald Trump thinks President Obama should present his birth certificate and prove he's a U.S. citizen.  President Obama's team is maneuvering against the Republicans by playing up how willing he is to work with certain Republicans, hoping the negative connotations associated with Obama's support might tip the races in question to the Democrats.  (Follow that?  I had to think about it for a while myself.  Heard it on NPR but can't find the link now)  Charlie Sheen - 'nuff said.  In our time, where the message is now the medium and image is everything, would we modern Pharisees even be aware enough of our own sins to drop our stones, or would we just have at it and let the press secretary handle the fallout?

Self-awareness is more than just excessive navel-gazing: self-awareness is the emotional, spiritual and professional maturity to know and admit the truth in the criticism of others.  Self-awareness is knowing your tendencies enough to recognize when you're heading down that path, stones in hand, ready to purge the "evildoer" from your midst without a second thought.  Self-awareness prepares the soul to be convicted of sin when necessary, without excuse, complaint or denial.  Self-awareness is essential for the growth and health of a mature human race.

We are trying to know ourselves better.  What matters most is how honestly we see ourselves - and our utter dependence on Christ, who knows us even better, yet will not let what he knows of us have the final word.  Jesus didn't condemn the Pharisees that day at the Temple - perhaps because he saw they were doing a pretty good job of it themselves.  Thus do we become ready for resurrection.  So we ask ourselves today, "what stones am I being called to drop?"

In Christ,
Pastor Scott

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