- Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
This oft quoted statement earns it's keep every day, and today is not the slightest exception. CNN reported today that "a 13 year-old girl who said she had been raped was stoned to death in Somalia after being accused of adultery by Islamic militants..." (the rest of the article can be found here)
Rewind two-thousand years.
Early in the morning Jesus came to the temple and all the people came to him, and ready to be taught they sat down at his feet. The scribes and Pharisees, not interested in his teachings but only trying to trap him, came also. They brought with them a woman who was guilty of adultery and placed her in the midst of the people.
The crafty keepers of the law asked, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery. Moses commanded us to stone one such as her, but what do you say?" They hoped Jesus would dig himself a hole he couldn't climb out of so that they could bring charges against him and legitimately have him killed.
But instead of answering them directly Jesus stooped, bent over, and with his finger began to write in the dirt of the ground. Frustrated, they continued to pester him, so he stood up and looking them in the eye said, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her." Having said his peace he stooped again and continued writing in the dirt.
But when they heard what he had said they left the scene, one by one, from oldest to youngest, until Jesus and the woman were left alone in the makeshift court with the woman standing before him. Again Jesus stood up, but this time speaking to her, said, "Where did everyone go? Has no one condemned you?" In tears, the words, "No one, Lord," fell from her trembling mouth.
He replied, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on sin no more."
Fast-forward again to present day. The facts are not a perfect reflection of the analogy forced through this blog, but some aspects beg and pull at my thoughts. The Pharisees, scribes, and Islamic militants objectified the people around them as tools for a 'higher' cause. The Pharisees wanted Jesus dead more than they cared about the destiny of the adulterers' life - much less her eternal destiny and relationship with God the Father. A means to an end. Nothing more.
The Islamic militants made an example of an innocent, victimized, 13-year old girl because they needed a sacrifice to glorify their control over the Somali people. In a moment, one girls life blood turned to liquid fear, a venom that will deaden the nerves of the Somali citizens, remove their hearts, and force them to their knees - another country successfully subjugated by Islam.
Today's murder exposed the character of the Islamic militants in the same way that Jesus' question exposed the character of the Pharisees, the scribes, and you and I - dreadfully sinful. Steeped in sin. Stained by sin. We, and they, are broken and defiled creatures separated from God by our sin.
In the past I have taken refuge by identifying with the woman - I am worthy of judgement, but I have been forgiven and now live in Christ. But today I am brought face to face with my darker self, the accuser, the Pharisee and religious zealot. Could I not also be counted in their ranks? Have I not also pointed the finger, cast stones of judgement upon my brothers, glorified my righteousness at the expense of their life, instead of extending grace, hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation?
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of John chapter 8 is that when Christ utters his divine words of forgiveness there is no one there to stand witness. The very souls that walked away in conviction are the souls who most need to hear his message of hope.
Jesus changed the course of history by revealing that none of us has any right to judge another's sin. Neither do any of us have the authority to absolve another's sin. The authority to judge and to forgive rests only in God's hands. The Islamic militants did not learn history by way of Christ and thus took the reigns of judgement into their own hands. The price was the life of child. Instead of judgement our role is to draw one anther towards Christ. In full knowledge of our own sin, in full knowledge of God's forgiveness, we share that same message with the broken around us.
The opportunities before me have never been so grossly influential. Instead my day to day is filled with the mostly mundane. But as opportunities arise I face the same choice: will I humbly direct my brother and sister towards the cross, or instead hurl death, heaping the crushing weight of guilt upon a person made in the image of God? I pray the former.
Let's learn from history as Christ wrote it.
The paraphrase of John 8:1-11 is my own and was not the result of scholarly translation.