Stone-Throwing Zealotry

October 18, 2012

It completely astounds me… the way some people willfully provide misinformation and twist theology to justify actions that are destructive against those they once called a brother or sister, and intimidate others into blindly following along.

I know humans are humans. We’re screwed up, depraved. Selfish, and self-righteous.

But when it happens within the body of Christ, it still surprises me.  I suppose it shouldn’t.  The pattern of religion is that it tempts people into behaving like idiots.

In John 8, the religious elite brought a woman before Jesus who had been caught in the act of adultery.  According to the law, the religious elite were perfectly within their right to throw stones at the woman they caught in the act. The law of Moses was clear. She was to be stoned to death.

Christ did not pick up a stone to join them.

He stood in between these religious zealots and the woman they wanted to destroy. He was ready to take the stones on himself, in order to shield her from what, by all legal measures, was their rightful and righteous judgement, their duty.

And he told them…. “Those of you without sin can cast the first stone.”

And then he wrote something on the ground in the dirt… we don’t know what it was. I’ve heard a million theories, some of them more plausible than the other. But my question has always been…

How did they catch this woman in the act?

Do you think, by any stretch of the imagination, that they knew what was going on all along, and waiting for the “right” time to act, because perhaps, what they really wanted to do, was exercise their “God-given” lawful right to destroy?  Do you think, perhaps, they waited and watched while this was about to take place, while all the while it was within their power to lovingly prevent it?

And what, exactly, did Jesus think of that?

In the story itself, John 8 offers the commentary that they were trying to test Jesus, to get him to say something incriminating. Apparently, this author didn’t actually believe that these religious zealots would literally throw a stone.

(Or at least he didn’t want to suggest to his hellenistic readers that Jews were really that crazy, a case that I consider far more plausible, because these same religious zealots were the ones who nailed this self-proclaimed messiah onto the cross for violating the very same Mosaic laws they were so concerned about upholding.  Or, perhaps they were simply more worried about protecting their own little kingdom and using whatever power they could to crush those they perceived to be a threat – I highly doubt Jesus was the only weirdo they pressured Rome to crucify.  In any case…)

Those who would throw the stones are, apparently, even more misguided than those who would simply use the situation to test the self-proclaimed messiah.

Those who would wield the Word of God as a weapon do not know love. Or, if I want to put it more politely, do not understand anything about how to express it. And yes, dear brothers and sisters, there is a time for tough love. But when “tough love” is following isolation, blame, condemnation, and requirements of silence, and additionally coupled with lies, gossip, and slander, then it is not tough love, at all. That is schadenfreude and sadism.

After throwing the stones and walking away, such zealotry pats itself on the back and congratulates itself on its dear self-righteousness, encouraged by its efforts to uphold the law and follow the written word.

Meanwhile, Christ stands in between such zealotry and those it is targeting. And he takes the stones on himself. This is what the Living Word does. This Living Word expresses forgiveness, patience, support, suffering together daily, and (at the risk of conjuring cringe-worthy Christian clichés) carrying those who are unable to walk. It protects those who are under attack, even if those attacks are fully justified, according to the law.  Because in the end, the law is not what most matters to the heart of the Living Word.

Stone-throwing zealotry may provide a false sense of unity and pride, but it destroys the foundation of love that is the bedrock of a community.

God help us all, but particularly those who lead the way into such senseless ecclesiology.