John 8

Forgetting to Remember

Jesus said that he came to testify to the truth (John 18). He also said that those who continue in his word are true disciples who know the truth (John 8). It sometimes is the case that Christians can get it in our minds that since Jesus testifies to the truth and followers of Jesus know the truth, that we have sole access to Truth.

Beyond making it difficult to be in relationship with us when we believe we have sole access to Truth, we Christians are not very good at admitting we are wrong. How can we be wrong if we have access to the truth? How can Christian beliefs be wrong if our leader testifies to the truth?

Gil Bailie points out that the Greek word lēthe means forgetful. He notes that when you put an “a” as a prefix you get alētheia, translated as truth (as it is in John 8 and 18). Literally speaking this word means to not be forgetful, or to stop forgetting.

This means that living in the truth does not mean to speak with absolute and ultimate unquestionable correctness. Living in the truth means that we do not forget.

Photo by  James Hammond  on  Unsplash

Photo by James Hammond on Unsplash

We can be wrong and still be living in the truth, because living in the truth means we admit that we do not have the whole truth. Even that which we do “know” to be True, we hold lightly because we admit there maybe things we are unintentionally forgetting.

Living in the truth is one of the distinctions of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. The kingdom of this world is more interested in forgetting than in remembering. As such, the kingdom of this world is not of the truth. The kingdom of God does not forget and thus is a kingdom of the truth. It may explain in part why the prophets emphasis remembering and why Jesus asks us to “do this in remembrance of me.”

The reality is living in the truth means that we admit we are wrong. We do not fear being wrong, in fact the Gospel proclaims that there is a joy in being wrong. As Bailie points out: “The joy of being wrong is that being wrong can be forgiven: it is insisting on being right that confirms our being bound in sin.”

And so on this week going into the beginning of a new year (Advent) consider the baptism vows which say:

We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.

We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

We confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

Let us not forget.

Are we willing to be wrong in order to be loving?

You may know the story of what Jesus said in response to charges brought against the woman caught in adultery: "Those who are without sin cast the first stone." It is iconic in so many ways and functions for the Church as a standard for forgiveness, grace, mercy and creativity in the face of difficult situations. 

If you continue to read in John chapter 8, Jesus is engaged in a conversation with the powers that be. Here is the tail end of the conversation:

They answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does.’ They said to him, ‘We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.’

As you may be picking up in the story Jesus is echoing the story of when Abraham did not kill his son. Abraham may have thought that he heard God's voice tell him to go and kill his son, but when the time came to do that he was confronted with the reality that in fact, God desires mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6).

The Pharisees and Scribes that are talking with Jesus are so convinced that they are correct in their understanding of the law and of what should happen to the woman caught in adultery and what should happen to Jesus that in their pursuit of being right they were willing to kill others in the name of "being correct". 

Abraham and the Pharisees were both convinced they were right in their understanding of the desire of God. Abraham was humble enough to recognize that he was wrong. The Pharisees were not.

Are we willing to be wrong in order to be loving? Are we able to admit we are wrong when our convictions lead us to kill, destroy, remove, scapegoat, or condemn another? 

As Ghandi said, "I am prepared to die, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill." 

The day Jesus saved his mother from death

One can imagine that as Jesus grew up he heard the story about how his father treated his mother. He heard the story of an underclass, underprivileged woman caught up in a potential scandal of the sexual sort. She is scared and potentially cast out of society. Rather than being thrown out of society and killed, she is saved and redeemed all because of the actions of one man. 

Jesus is told, perhaps every year, about the time that Joseph did not cast out his "scandalous" mother. And one can imagine that story affected Jesus and shaped him for years to come. 

One has to wonder if the story of Joseph treating Mary affected Jesus when he was confronted with the woman caught in adultery

The crowd brings forth an underclass, underprivileged woman caught up in a potential scandal of the sexual sort. She is scared and potentially cast out of society. All eyes are on Jesus and one can only imagine that Jesus was thinking, "I have heard this story before."

And one can imagine that as soon as Jesus looks at this woman his lips involuntarily said, "Mom?" 

One can imagine that the way Joseph treated Mary affected the way Jesus treated the woman caught in adultery. Which is why, in some sense, this was the day that Jesus saved his mother.