Friday, January 10, 2014

Judgment Call on Casting Stones

It's easily one of the most mis-used phrases from the Bible.

"Do not judge."

In our live-and-let live culture, where it's much easier to abrogate our duty as Christ-followers of discerning between right and wrong, we instead will see friends, co-workers, and loved ones in a compromising situation of some sort, and what do we do?  We could confront, we could get uncomfortable, we could risk offending somebody... or, we could grit our teeth and say, "I can't judge."

And that's what we say.  Hey, it sounds good, since that phrase comes straight from the Bible.  And it seems to be corroborated by yet another mis-used phrase straight from the Bible that we like to assume means the same thing:

"He who is without sin, cast the first stone."

Well, that eliminates all of us from being able to cast blame, doesn't it?  Shucks, who are we to criticize anybody for anything, or accuse anybody of anything, or even look cross-eyed at anybody?  We're all sinners, there's no one righteous (no, not one), so we might as well all go do our own thing, be our own person, and refuse to be held accountable to or by anybody.  Not even ourselves.  Morality is relative.

But even though "do not judge" and "he who is without sin" are God's words, is that what He's saying?

Consider the scene as, when it came to stoning the woman caught in adultery, Christ is presented with what looks like an open-and-shut case.  What is the entirety of this situation in the context of what Christ is being asked, and how He knew He should respond as the Son of God?

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.  The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?"  This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.  Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.  And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her."  And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.  But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus stood up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"  She said, "No one, Lord."  And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more."  John 8:2-11

OK - did you see what the scribes and Pharisees included in their question of Jesus? They pointed out that women who were caught in adultery should be punished according to the "Law of Moses." And yes, technically, they were correct in that, but what did they leave out? Being typical male chauvinists, they left out the part about the person with whom the woman was committing adultery.  According to the law in Leviticus 20:10, both the adulterous man and the adulterous woman were to be punished with stoning.

Where was the man?

Some have postulated that, when Christ bent down and began writing in the dirt, He was naming the man - or men - who should also be stoned along with the woman.  Perhaps that's why the scribes and Pharisees dropped their stones and left!  Obviously, it doesn't really matter what Christ wrote, but it's clear that, as the Son of Righteousness, He wasn't going to let inequity tarnish the law.

Inequity, after all, is an iniquity.

Had both the adulterous man and woman been brought before Christ, the scenario may have been completely different.  But Christ, Who came to fulfill the law, but not abolish it, answered the scribes and Pharisees perfectly.

Meanwhile, you'll also notice that Christ did not deny that the woman had committed adultery.  In fact, He told her to "sin no more," so He'd already made the "judgment call" about her innocence or guilt.  The guilt of the woman was never in question.  It was being punished by death that was.

Do you see the distinction between what people mean when they caution against "throwing the first stone" and what Christ really meant when He said it originally?  Do Christ's words represent a nullification of our duty to maintain moral standards?  Or is Christ teaching in His quote that unfair punishment is as immoral as whatever activity is supposed to be punished?

Our friend J.C. Derrick at World magazine has a good example of this in a column he wrote today regarding this year's class of inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  Each year, members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) vote on worthy players to be honored with this recognition, and recently, some consternation has arisen in our baseball world regarding whether or not players from the notorious steroids era should be inducted.

Many fans generally agree that players who've either admitted to doping, or have been found guilty by various authorized governance bodies of doping, should be excluded from consideration by the BBWAA.  However, plenty of acrimony exists regarding other players from this same period of time who might have doped, but have either not admitted to it or have not been convicted.  Some say all of the guys who played during that tainted era should be out of contention.  They may not have done it, but if we can't figure out whether they're telling the truth, we shouldn't risk besmirching the legacy of the Hall of Fame by honoring them anyway.

For his part, Derrick says we should give athletes who are not proven steroid users the benefit of the doubt.  "Guilt by association," he argues, unilaterally and unfairly "omits some of the best players to ever step foot on a baseball diamond."

In fact, as Derrick points out, if we're going to talk guilt, what about all of the demanding fans who, by their ever-increasing appetite for more powerful athletes and more spectacular performances from them, actually spurred baseball's stars to illegally bulk up?  Back then, while some experts were asking out loud how so many players were suddenly becoming such strong home-run kings, fans retorted with a "who cares, as long as we get even more home runs?" mentality.

Guilt by association, Derrick reasons, can spread in more than one direction.

If Christ were to stoop down and write on the dirt in a baseball diamond's infield, what might He write about the steroid scandal?

Can you hear the baseballs dropping to the ground?

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