Wednesday, December 17, 2008

At the margins

I don't know if you've ever noticed, but the gospels are populated with quite a large number of sinners.  There's the tax-collector, Levi, whom Jesus conscripted into his merry band of disciples, a tax collector being the unsavory ancestor of our IRS workers.  They were willing--ok, eager--to line their own pockets with a little extra cash they'd commanded from the rank and file of society. Levi, reborn and renamed as Matthew, walked away from the cash, followed Jesus and wound up finding Life in Christ and became a gospel-writer, read and remembered throughout history. The short, wealthy Zaccheus who had to climb a tree to get a look at Jesus over the crowds was also one of the abhorred tax-men.  The crowd was horrified and disgusted when Jesus invited himself to Zaccheus's house for dinner, but it changed Zaccheus on the spot, made him offer half his wealth to the poor before Jesus even stepped foot through his door. And Jesus, once in the house, says, "Today--this very moment--salvation has come to this house."  The very presence of Jesus brought salvation to Zaccheus.

Then there were the disenfranchised among women.  Actually, in that age, all women were disenfranchised, but these women were the worst of the worst.  There's the woman at the well, so often-married, she was ostracized by her people, and had to bring water up from the community well in the heat of the day when no one else was around--no one, that is, except the stranger from Galilee who told her every thing she'd ever done, and offered to give her the very water of life.  That conversation so changed this woman, rejected by her community, that she left her water jug, running off the tell her neighbors that she'd met the Messiah.  And unlikely instrument of salvation, nevertheless, the townsfolk came out to see the man she'd been talking about and ended up believing, not only because of her belief/her words, but because they heard Him themselves.

There's the woman found by the Jewish leaders in the very act of adultery, who was dragged, it implies, from the very bed of her lover, pushed down in the dust of a Galilean street before a man the pharisees were trying to trap.  I have to say, I've always found it interesting that the man this woman was involved with doesn't appear in the scene.  Was it fine and dandy for him to be engaged in a little hanky-panky (a sentiment perhaps of 'boys will be boys, after all...'), but not the woman? The religious leaders knew the law, though.  Only a betrothed or married woman--like Mary herself--could be stoned for adultery. And they wanted to test this itinerant preacher.  But the trap those men led this poor woman into backfired, when Jesus calmly knelt in the dust and began writing in it.  I've often wondered what He wrote, haven't you?  Some commentators think it was the 10 commandments, others think it was a record of those men's most private sins--which God, of course, knew.  Can you imagine if God wrote out your sins for the world to see?  If, as you were busy pointing a finger at someone, He revealed your real self, black and ugly?

Then He says, perhaps in exclamation point to what He'd written, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."  Suddenly they're speechless.  In some real way, they're face-planted in the dirt with the fallen woman, and have to scurry away to hide.  The crowd of accusors, ready with stones in their hands to kill her, having already judged her, actually save her.  They did the one thing that would keep her from dying: they've brought her to the One person who could free her. 

With all these people, in fact, a confrontation with Jesus ended in salvation.  Matthew, Zaccheus, the woman at the well, the one caught in adultery all met Jesus and were saved, literally and figuratively from a life of sin and death.  I think I've said this before, but we are all these people.  We are so small inside (even the legal giant, Beve!) that we must climb out of our lives to see the Savior.  We must lay down our money-grubbing ways, dump over the table of our selfishness and follow Him.  We are caught in thirst for happiness, and the hunt to find it myriad ways when only the Water of Life that He offers will satisfy.  We are in the dust, judged and condemned by each other and our own sin, and only He can lift us up and send us on our way, admonishing us to leave our lives of sin.  Without Him, one way or another, we are all on the margins of society, even though most of us fake it pretty well most of the time.  But He knows the truth, He offers the way into the center of LIFE, and gives us a new name--Christian, or Little Christ-- and it's this name in the book of Life.  Quite a trade-off, huh?

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