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I love the lessons taught through the life of the Savior. I sometimes struggle to find a favorite....there are so many that I am grateful for. But, today I want to touch on one. This particular lesson has had such power for me personally over the past few months.
Great Lessons from the "Woman taken in Adultery"
I realize that most folks are focusing on Luke 2...as am I. However, I wish to focus on another story that I feel capture lessons for life that we all can be blessed with at during this Holiday season and throughout the year. If you are not familiar with this powerful message, it is found in John Chapter 8. With your indulgence, I would like to share my insights and those of others that I have taken from this thought-provoking incident.
To set the stage, the Savior was teaching at the temple when the following occurred:
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
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Now, who were the Scribes and Pharisees?
These folks were not friends of the Savior, rather enemies who had conspired ahead of time to trick or discredit Him. President Howard W. Hunter described the Pharisees in this manner:
"The Pharisees were the largest and most influential of the three sects of Judaism at the time of Christ. The Pharisaic movement in the Jewish state rose from the ranks of the lay lawyers of the Greek period to become the leading religious and political party. The main characteristics of the Pharisees were their legalism and their legalistic inflexibility. They were known for their strict accuracy in the interpretation of the law and their scrupulous adherence to living the law in every minute detail. This caused them to be known as the strictest of Jewish sects in observing their tradition. They shunned the non-Pharisee as being unclean, thereby keeping themselves separated from those they considered to be the common people."
First off, this sounds like a very difficult way to live. I love the term "legalistic inflexibility" that he uses, it is very descriptive. If I interpret this correctly, we might refer to it in our day as "It's my way or the highway". You either agree without deviation with these individuals or you are shunned.
This type of shunning can be found in various circles:
- And in the workplace
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In their day, there was not mass communication. They had to meet...at least two or more of them, together at a time. During these 'get-togethers', we must infer that their severe dislike for the Savior brought about various discussions or plans to rid themselves of him. These discussions and plans must have been shared with others as the scripture verse states "Scribes and Pharisees" which means multiple people.
One or more of them had to had knowledge of this Woman's lifestyle. (Now, I am in no way agreeing with her choice and that of her partner when they chose to indulge in Adultery). Whether she had lead this lifestyle previous to this event, or was placed in a position that she fell, we may never know. The point here is that someone had knowledge of the place, time, and the event to be caught "in the very act". (Have you ever wondered where the guy was in all of this?). Again, these self-appointed legal zealots had to have conspired to know of her whereabouts etc to find her and bring her to the Savior. These treacherous individuals only gave a portion of the critical information to the Savior. They only focused upon her act, not the act of the two folks engaged in intimacy, not the circumstances that lead up to them finding her in this compromising position, and certainly not the methods they were using to humiliate her. They had an agenda and they used it.
In our day, communication is lightning fast and there are a variety of methods to communicate. These technical marvels include text, email, blogging, twitter, phone calls etc. But, some time-tested methods are still here, the act of gathering together and visiting.
Although we have more methods to communicate than ever, the temptation to Gossip and mislead are still there. Gossip traditionally focuses only on partial aspects of a situation or a person. The individual sharing the distorted information often has a purpose other than being fully transparent. Gossip becomes particularly hard to distinguish if it comes from an individual you care about or trust. As it was at the time of this scripture story, the purpose of Gossip is the same, to distort and garner support essentially in an unholy fashion. Gossip inflicts emotional and spiritual wounds that sometimes drive friends and family far apart. The desire for temporary gain or superiority is never precious enough to hurt others. There is no righteous use for Gossip.....
I would like to quote Elder Marvin J Ashton:
In the world today we are victims of many who use their tongues as sharp swords. The misuse of our tongues seems to add intrigue and destruction as the media and private persons indulge in this pastime. In the vernacular of the day, this destructive activity is called bashing. The dictionary reports that to bash is to strike with a heavy, crushing blow.
Such a popular behavior is indulged in by far too many who bash a neighbor, a family member, a public servant, a community, a country, a church. It is alarming also how often we find children bashing parents and parents bashing children.“For every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:14.)
We as members of the Church need to be reminded that the words “Nay, speak no ill” are more than a phrase in a musical context but a recommended way of life. (See Hymns, no. 233.) We need to be reminded more than ever before that “if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” (A of F 1:13.) If we follow that admonition, there is no time for the dastardly hobby of bashing instead of building.
The Scribes and Pharisees were using subterfuge. In the words of Elder Marvin J Ashton:
"[The scribes and Pharisees] brought unto Him the woman taken in adultery. These enemies … tried to trick Him.....They were setting Him up in what appeared to be an impossible situation. Moses’s law says to stone her. “What sayest thou?” [John 8:5] they asked, tempting Him, trapping Him—putting Him in a no-win position.
This was an ambush of the most cruel type. Not only for this woman who was most likely fearing for her life at this point, but also for the Savior as these legal scholars were attempting to box him in a corner and discredit him.
If you have lived you life without being ambushed in some form or fashion, consider yourself lucky. Chances are, you just haven't thought about these experiences as emotional ambushes. Things like friends suddenly avoiding you (think back to the playground) both as kids and unfortunately as adults. The loss of a boyfriend/girlfriend to a friend. Being overlooked for an opportunity in education or business only to learn later that a trusted individual had engaged in behaviors to discredit you and enhance themselves, or walking into a situation where everyone seems to know about the purpose of the gathering...but you.
All of us have been born and blessed with the "Light of Christ" meaning that we can discern goodness and seek for it over evil. The Holy Ghost provides promptings to do good as well as promptings to avoid situations that are not praiseworthy or safe.
“That which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men. … “Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given” (D&C 46:7–8).
When presented with a choice to be involved in any sort of ambush, I encourage you to make it a matter of prayer and supplication. Seek for inspiration to know how to proceed "lest ye are deceived". In my view, time-outs are not just for children. In the Medical world, physicians take a 'time-out' just prior to surgery to ensure they have the right patient, procedure, patient history, supplies, etc. We can apply that same philosophy when we are invited to engage in any type of ambush. Take a time-out and seek inspiration.
In many ways, we all use inference or prediction throughout our day. Situations like walking into a room and seeing a mess without anyone one in view. In the past, this may have happened because one or more individuals have made decisions to leave a similar disaster behind. What is our first thought? Perhaps we choose to call the former perpetrators into the room. "Kids.....come downstairs....now!". In this all too familiar situation, I have (in total exasperation) jumped to conclusions that one or all of my sweet children have been the guilty of the mess-making. Then, lots of finger pointing ensues.
I have had to learn to talk with my kids differently. "Can someone tell me what happened here?" "Did someone forget to pick up after themselves here?" For me, asking in this manner takes a lot of patience....(which is something I have had to work hard to garner) to help resolve the mess-test. Have I at times said things like "It doesn't matter who made the mess, lets just get it cleaned up". Yup...but I had to learn to undo that type of stuff.
It's one thing to make an assumption about the intent of others, but it is a totally different thing to either not clarify the situation and publish the assumption to others as fact. As noted above, we have various methods of communication today....all can be used to publish for a good purpose or to promote an unfounded assumption.
The Scribes and Pharisees made assumptions about who the Savior was and published them among themselves. I love that fact that Paul had been a Pharisee and then made life-changing decisions that positively impacted the future of the gospel during his life-time. Somewhere along the line, he had to abandon his life-style, stop making assumptions about who the Savior was, and go on his own fact-finding mission. He ultimately discovered the glorious gifts the Savior was offering to the world.
Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet.
The Gifts of the Savior in the Parable...
Now that we have addressed the foibles of man, I would love....love.....love to point out the tremendous gifts of the Savior in this parable. As this is the Christmas season, let's examine the great gifts that Savior gives us all by turning lemons into lemonade.
The Savior could have joined in with the Scribes and Pharisees and bashed or humiliated this woman even further....because she was a sinner. He instead chose "the better part".
6...This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
It must have taken significant patience to listen to and know that he was being targeted. He patiently, and with kindness, pointed out a way for them to accomplish a part of their goal......to stone her. However, there was a precursor, they had to be without sin to do so. He was the only one present who could be that person...the one without sin. He let them look introspectively and make their own choices. I love that he was very low-key in his actions as well.
I am going to make an assumption...(yes I know.....). I am going to assume that the Savior cared for and about everyone in the situation. This includes the woman and the Scribes and Pharisees. These were all his children, and he loved them all. He set up a situation that allowed the accusers to self-evaluate and change their course without being forced. He showed love for the woman by protecting her from her accusers and saving her from stoning. This action is masterful....
See this great explanation from Elder Marvin J. Ashton:
The woman taken in adultery answered the Lord’s question regarding her accusers by saying, “No man, Lord.” And then this powerful declaration came: “Go, and sin no more” [John 8:11]. The Master was teaching in that day and also teaching in this very hour. His great message: despise the sin, but love the sinner. I hope that can give us strength and confidence and a closer relationship to our Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus did not condone adultery. He gave the woman love instead of an authoritative lecture. She and the accusers needed a lesson in love. The situation called for mercy and compassion. How rewarding it is to know that Jesus believed that man is greater than all of his sins. Is it any wonder He was referred to as the “Good Shepherd”? He loved all of His sheep whether they were strays, hungry, helpless, cold, or lost.
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The lessons here are many. In my understanding, this is the one that most folks have taken away from this story is the forgiveness aspect.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.I cannot express how touching this lesson is to me personally. He loved her and cared about her eternal progression. He offered her....and the rest of us.....a pathway to return to our Heavenly Father again. He proffered forgiveness.
This gift...or lesson... is one that can be a bitter pill for many folks. When someone has wronged us, has inflected significant pain, bashed us, or taken away something or someone dear.....we have the opportunity to forgive.
[He] seems to center around the virtues of love, compassion, forgiveness, and long-suffering—in other words, those qualities that enable us to deal with our fellowmen more compassionately. Let’s look specifically at the Savior’s message to the Twelve. They (and we) were admonished to “be reconciled to [our] brother” (Matt. 5:24), to “agree with [our] adversary quickly” (Matt. 5:25), to “love [our] enemies, [to] bless them that curse [us], [to] do good to them that hate [us], and [to] pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us].” (Matt. 5:44.) We are told, “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt. 5:39.)A set of pretty high standards to live up to.....but it is possible. This life is meant for us all to make choices. We have the opportunity to make choices everyday. We can make compassionate, loving, kind, and patient choices. We can choose to bless the lives of those we interact with on a daily basis. For those who partake of the sacred Sacrament, this offers a weekly basis to forgive, repent, and choose the better. If we seek the Holy Spirit, he can guide us through the process of forgiveness and repentance.
How do we take the Holy Spirit for our guide? We must repent of our sins each week and renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament with clean hands and a pure heart, as we are commanded to do (see D&C 59:8–9, 12). Only in this way can we have the divine promise that we will “always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (D&C 20:77). That Spirit is the Holy Ghost, whose mission is to teach us, to lead us to truth, and to testify of the Father and the Son (see John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:13; 3 Ne. 11:32, 36).
This past year has been one of the hardest years of my life. Trusted individuals have made choices that have caused an immense amount of pain and suffering for far too many people. I still do not see any winners throughout this entire experience. Far to much as been lost.
As painful as it has been for me personally, I have worked (and continue to work) hard to forgive the perpetrators. These are folks I love and cherish....which is why it has been so very difficulty for me personally. I am grateful for these many gifts the Savior offers to us all. I am touched by his kind impressions and love I have felt from him through this ordeal and throughout my life. As my Dad always says "This too shall pass...if we can endure it well". I am trying to do so with every turn.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is filled with hope. If we are willing to turn to Him and live righteously, I do believe that we as individuals and collectively can change lives, situations, and ultimately the world. We were sent here to succeed...pure and simple. We are never given anything that we cannot handle, no matter how overwhelming it is. Remember, you can do what is needed and by doing so, you will grow in so many areas of your life. Be the blessing that the other person needs you to be.
I believe Elder Ashton has a great summary statement....
Let us open our arms to each other, accept each other for who we are, assume everyone is doing the best he or she can, and look for ways to help leave quiet messages of love and encouragement instead of being destructive with bashing.
The Scribes and Pharisees were short sighted in their efforts, but were still children of our Heavenly Father. They too were loved.. I pray that at this Christmas time, we will all be loving, be forgiving, and build up where we can. We have been given this great gift of life, let us all live up to the potential that the Savior and our Heavenly Father have gifted to us all.