Apothegm of Narda

Apothegm of Narda: “Never utter these words: ‘I do not know this, therefore it is false.’ One must study to know; know to understand; understand to judge.”

“Senator, when did you stop beating your wife?”

John 7:53- 8:11:

2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

This has long been my favorite passage in the canonical Gospels.  First there is the fascinating linguistic mystery of why this bit of Lukan material is in John (there’s a decent summary of this in the notes at http://net.bible.org/passage.php?passage=Joh+7:53-8:11)?   Then there is the reaction of Jesus to the Karl Rovian campaign question posed by his enemies.  “Moses says stone the whore. What do you say?”  If Jesus says someting contrary to Moses, he breaks with his religious tradition. If Jesus goes into the exact Mosaic law, that the woman needed to be actually caught in the act by two adult male witnesses (and so on) he risks coming across as an East Coast academic elitist policy wonk.  If he gives his own ruling, well then he’s a greater authority then Moses.  It’s lose-lose-lose proposition and the questioner knows it.  Jesus’ reaction is brilliant.  He stops the action and draws in the ground – before turning the tables.

The scribes and pharisees basically ask the entrapment question, “So Senator ben-Yosef, when did you stop beating your wife?”  And the reply is, “Y’all are such an unethical press corps, y’all don’t get to ask the question.”    Once the question is asked, the senator from Nazareth is forced to defend whether he abuses his wife or not, and especially if he doesn’t he’s now cast as someone who does.  But the reply, “You whoring press corps shouldn’t ask such questions,” stops them dead in their tracks.

The reason the reply is so effective is the pause, the quiet, the zen of it.  Jesus’ ability to sit and down and shut up first before speaking.  Then his phrasing, let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.

My religious heart hears the rest of the story, my human heart knows that in all too many parts of the world all the stones would come hurling at both Jesus and the woman anyway.  The greatest power of the story is that Jesus and his followers and all the Christs and buddhas and men and women of courage never know if the stones are going to come and they sit down and shut up and gracefully offer the stunner and wait to see if our highest resolve will the day one more time.

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