In the book I’m reading, The Year of Living Biblically, author A.J. Jacobs is trying to figure out how to handle the Bible’s capital punishment laws, and has taken to tossing pebbles at adulterers and Sabbath-breakers. At this point in his year-long quest to obey the Bible literally, Jacobs has yet to deal with the New Testament, and it’s too bad because I think it would take some pressure off if he could read Jesus’ words that “he who is without sin can cast the first stone.” I’m looking forward to getting to that part of the book later.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I read the gospels, I find myself identifying, not with the sick and the poor to whom Jesus ministered, and not with the disciples who followed Him, but with the Pharisees clinging to their stones. I can be so judgmental about other people and such a know-it-all when it comes to Scripture. I know lots of Christians who think it would be super-cool to have lived in the time of Jesus. Honestly, I’m not so sure…I fear I would have rejected Jesus for being too liberal or too anti-intellectual or too darn convicting.
I generally try to avoid finishing the sentence “If Jesus were here today, He would…” because I’m pretty sure I’d be wrong. The Pharisees were wrong about what they expected from the Messiah, and they were experts on the subject. However, I have a feeling that if Jesus were here today, He would turn selective literalism on its head.
Throughout His teachings, Jesus consistently challenges people to refocus their judgments and criticisms away from others and onto their own hearts. Perhaps when He says He “did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it,” He means that He intends to teach us not to be selectively literal, but to be introspectively literal, to apply God’s teachings more aggressively to ourselves and hold ourselves to higher standards.
You’ve heard it said that murder is a terrible sin? Well, being angry and calling people names are sins worthy of punishment in hell. You’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t commit adultery? Well, simply lusting after a woman is like committing adultery in your heart. You want to stone a woman for her sins? Well, let’s give the sinless person the first shot.
With this in mind, I sometimes wonder how Jesus would respond to a question about homosexuality. I can’t say for certain, but I have a suspicion that the conversation might suddenly turn to gossip…or materialism…or pride…or some other “lifestyle sin” we’d rather not talk about because it hits a little too close to home.
This happens to me almost every time I go to Scripture looking for ammo against someone else’s theological position or lifestyle choices. By the grace of God, nine times out of ten, I bump into a passage that reminds me that I’ve got a couple of logs lodged in my own eyes.
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
The biggest mistake we can make with selective literalism is to hold others to higher standards than we hold ourselves.
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