It’s been another high octane week for being mad at the world, hasn’t it? The cover of Vanity Fair featured a man who now says he’s a woman, and has been cited for his courage by ESPN. Elsewhere there has been sexual abuse among reality TV stars, eleven year old kids from a private school being taken to an adult sex toy shop, and public schools opening girls’ restrooms up to boys with gender issues real or imagined. What’s a follower of Jesus supposed to do? Get mad as Hell, right?
I was praying about all this cultural decay tonight when the Holy Spirit brought John 8 to mind. Christ crosses paths with a bunch of fired up Jews who are infuriated about flagrant acts of adultery in their little neighborhood. Things are so bad that they actually caught a couple in the very act of sin! So they yanked them out of bed, told the guy he should be ashamed, and have dragged the woman to the center of town to stone her. Then they ask Jesus if he agrees with the Law of Moses or not.
As usual, Jesus is a buzz kill. “Sure, you can stone her. But let the one with no sin in his own life cast the first stone.” The party is over and the guests drop their rocks and go home. And strangely, the Lord isn’t indignant about anything: not the flagrant adultery; not the blind hypocrisy; not even the perversion of the Law. He’s actually very chill, doodling in the sand with his finger. Outrage is not his favorite color.
Granted, Christ didn’t have to deal with people who want to redefine marriage or alter their gender, but he had to live in a world he hadn’t had time to change yet. In Christ’s world, babies could be abandoned and left to die, and children could be sold as slaves to pay off a debt. People could be bought like cattle and treated like beasts; beaten and abused. Governments not only had the authority to tax people into poverty and destitution, but even local authorities could have you arrested and killed for irritating the governor. Kings and Emperors unashamedly swapped women, sponsored orgies and had their way with adolescent boys. There was a lot of violence in the world of the first century, and not a lot of mercy- until Jesus walked in.
It’s weird: Jesus is not uncomfortable around irreligious and immoral people. In fact, he seems to enjoy talking with them about life and culture and God. Len Sweet puts it this way: Jesus ate a lot of good food with a lot of bad people.
You and I are called to be saints. We should take sin seriously, but we should not take ourselves so seriously. It’s true we are saved, but it’s also true we are sinners saved only by grace. Paul was offended by all the idols of pagan gods when he visited Mars Hill, but he didn’t dwell on it. To the contrary, when he stood to speak, he was almost affirming, telling the Athenians he could see they were very religious. It was irony, not flattery, but he was smiling.
Ecclesiastes teaches there’s a time and season for everything. On the occasion of watching our friends and neighbors floundering in the swelling tide of decadence and destruction, it’s perhaps not the best time or season for throwing stones at failed but famous sinners. Far better to love the lost, and speak life; to be all things to all people that by all means we might win some to Christ.
And lift up the cross!