Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Stone Caster

The crushed grass and sandy earth crumbled in their fingers, as they sifted for rocks that would kill the girl who had defied the all-holy law of Moses. She had been caught in adultery, in the very act, or so they said as a crowd of many came to see justice done. But where was the man with whom she did the deed? No response was offered. All that mattered was that they had the girl. Maybe it's because the girls are the real temptresses. Surely no man could be held responsible for falling for a glance full of thirst, a thirst for pleasure. And so, the sages and scholars had gathered to make sure that none would be drawn by her cords of kindness again. The rocks were collected, and it was a mere matter of aiming and putting one more sinner in their grave. And surely, this grave would not make the rolls of heaven come judgment day.

But it was not to be-for the Teacher who had crossed their stage at the brink of this woman's execution more than once had some thoughts about who could be worthy of executing judgment, and who ought first consider their own sins.

This prophet, priest and soon to be king also knelt down to touch the land, but with different purposes. Instead of gathering the tools of a murderer or executioner, he began to write upon the earth. Many sages and philosophers have wondered what it was that the Teacher wrote, but at the end of the day, the girl was spared. She was to go and sin no more, and most likely she didn't obey his sage advice. But she was spared nonetheless.

Years later, some would also ask whether this tale was contrived, added into later editions of the Holy Books. Maybe some were sneaking in desires to make capital punishment atrocious to the conscience, or maybe the pens of the scribes wanted to spice up Scripture with salacious tales of misdeeds and lust.

Again, we can wonder whether this happened or not, but no one wonders whether the Teacher had words to say to those in power in the religious sphere.

For passage after passage utters words that would make an honest reader who reads with their mind open and not anesthetized want to vomit. To call someone a whitewashed tomb that is rotting away is to conjure images of decaying flesh, complete with wriggling worms doing their best to decompose the carcass of a pillar of the committee.

Or how about the words that state that these men were blind leaders of the blind, who caused children to stumble, and as such are worthy of having a huge stone tied around their necks? They would be surely lost, sleeping with the fishes, mafia style.

Oh those Pharisees--the name itself is now synonymous with all that is hypocritical and self-justifying. Can anything good come from them? Are they the new Nazareth that was once the disdained home of the nobodys and vagrants of the first century?

And that is where the story turns to a page that we have not read, but we can see the effects. Maybe some other scribes failed to fill in these lines to the gospels, but we can see too clearly that the thinking of many would lead one to another story.

Imagine the scene of the adulteress, nearly killed but thankfully the hands the Pharisees have been stayed by the simple conviction of Christ's statement. The scrolls are unrolled, and what would we read in this lost scene?

No one cast a stone at the adulteress, for the Pharisees knew that they were in far greater sin for having doubted whether Jesus was the Christ. And it came to pass that the Pharisees said unto Jesus, "Teacher, you say that you are wise, and that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. Therefore, if you are without sin, why have you not cast the stone?"

And Jesus responded, "It is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I shall repay.'"

Whereupon the Pharisees were shunned by Christ and his followers, and the disciples never paid heed to the words of the Pharisees again. When they entered the synagogues and the Temple, the disciples would close their ears if a scribe or Pharisee spoke, out of fear of the Lord. Simon Peter and other disciples sought to stone them, but Jesus bade them to stay their hands. And much fear was upon the people.

Some will easily note the poor writing quality that would make this fragment of a lost gospel unbelievable. And I too would be on your side were you to form a committee in opposition to this accretion to the word of God.

But again, I'd ask you to venture to those days. Put yourself in the sandals of a first century Palestinian and imagine the landscape of power politics at play, where the Pharisees are standing their ground in the face of a man who could do miracles and lay claim to certain birth characteristics that would point at him as Messiah.

To have failed to see the light here would make most people assume that their words were vain puffs of smoke in the imagination of man's pride and vanity.

But is that what we read in the holy Gospels?

With the actual passages such as the whitewashed tombs and blind leaders of blind, one might assume this to be the whole picture. But as usual, we humans in our own blindness and extremism would be missing something enormous, for the whole picture speaks more words than these about the Pharisees.

For the shocking reality is that interwoven between the denunciations of Christ is a staunch affirmation of these religious leaders.

In the gospel of St. Matthew, Christ says something that I had overlooked for thirteen years, until it was recently brought to my attention.

Christ said these poignant words that have not left my mind for several months--

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you— but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. Matthew 23:2-4

For years I had read this passage and focused on the horrible burdens placed on God's people by the Scribes and Pharisees. Again, the notion of a blanket condemnation of these men seemed to be the only way to look at the institution of religious leaders in Israel. But what Christ actually says in the beginning is quite the opposite. He commended the people to practice and observe whatever the Pharisees and scribes told them to do! But how could this be? According to Jesus, there was something special about this seat of Moses, that seems to have ensured that what was said by the scribes and Pharisees was worthy of following, despite the fact that these individuals had not believed in Jesus.

These words have led me to see that in many sense I too have been a Pharisee, for I have sought to cast stones at another institution of religious leaders. They have been appointed from generation to generation from the initiation of the Christian Church, and in my faithlessness and cynicism I have assumed that their status meant nothing. And as I think on these words I am coming to see that there has always been a special protection on the religious leaders, from the Pharisees' day to our own. Surely, it is no protection from hypocrisy and horrible deeds, and the histories of the world are replete with examples of such tragedies. But at the end of the analysis, I cannot see how this hypothetical lost gospel where Christians ignored Christ's words by ignoring the words of the Pharisees would not be the same as what many Christians have done.

For Christ himself said that he was going to build a Church. If Moses' seat could have a special protection, how could the new lawgiver of the covenant written on our hearts establish a worse government, by founding it without a similar protection?

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