What is the Bible by Rob Bell – Part 8
Part 8: Stoners and Swingers
We’ve been looking at a number of stories from the Hebrew scriptures so far, stories I wanted you to see in a new light. Now, let’s look at a story from the gospels about Jesus and then, after that, we’ll gradually begin to identify the thread that connects them all.
So. Stoners and Swingers.(A good title is half the battle, isn’t it?) A woman gets caught mid-shag, the religious police bring her-but not the fella-in to the temple area and they make her stand before the group, trying to trap Jesus into saying that she should be stoned ACCORDING TO THE LAW (I have no idea why I CAPS LOCKED that). Jesus, however, bends down and writes on the ground. (A classic example of what is Jesus doing? Right up there with rubbing mud on the eyes and his first post-resurrection line You guys got some food?) He then says
Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,
he writes some more on the ground, the men start to leave until it’s just Jesus and the woman, he asks her if any one condemns her, she says no, he tells her that he doesn’t either and she should should leave her life of sin.
End of story.
So, what was he writing on the ground?
Ready? Because this will take some time. This story about the woman and the crowd that want to stone her is found at the beginning of The Gospel of John, chapter 8 (But not in the earliest manuscripts. Hmmmm.). If you back up to the previous chapter, chapter 7, you read that it was the time of the Festival of Tabernacles.
The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the seven major feasts on the Hebrew calendar. (See Leviticus 23 for a somewhat concise overview.) There were spring feasts and fall feasts, organized around the agricultural cycles of planting and harvesting. (Feasts were common in the ancient world in agricultural societies-people set aside particular times to thank the gods and ask the gods for continued bounty.)
The Spring Feasts were
Unleavened Bread, then
First Fruits, then
The Fall Feasts were
The Feast of Tabernacles, then, was the last feast of the year, and the last of the fall feasts. As the last of the fall feasts, it was the feast before the winter, when hopefully rains would come and water the crops so they’d grow so that in the spring you’d have a harvest-and something to celebrate and give thanks for at the spring feasts. Thousands of pilgrims in the first century would pour into Jerusalem for the eight days of feasting, staying in makeshift shelters (Hebrew sukkots) that represented how their God had cared for their people many years earlier when they had journeyed in the wilderness (That story is told in the Book of Exodus). During the eight days there were sacrifices and singing and special rituals, oriented around asking God to bring the winter rains so they’d have food come spring. The religious leaders would teach during these eight days about the significance of water-water as rain, water and thirst, thirst as a metaphor for spiritual longing. Lots of teaching about water. The eight days all built up to the last day, when the high priest would take a pitcher of water and a pitcher of wine and pour them together over the altar while the crowd chanted
Hosannah means God save us, as in, God please bring us the winter rains to save us from drought and famine. (Later Hosannah began to have political connotations, as in God, save us from the Romans who have invaded our land!)
With that in mind, notice this line from chapter 7
On the last and greatest day of the Festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice
Why is he speaking in a loud voice? Because it’s the last day and the crowd would have been chanting loudly. He wants to be heard over the noise of the gathered throng.
And what does he say in his outside voice?
Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.
Boom! He chooses this moment, a moment when people were focused on their very real physical needs for water, and calls them to their spiritual thirst, thirst he insists he can do something about. (Is this why earlier in the chapter he tells his brothers to go to the Festival and he stays back, telling them the time isn’t right? He’s waiting for the last day to make his speech with the ritual of the priest pouring the wine and water and the crowd chanting about their need for a savior as a backdrop? Brilliant. Just brilliant. The theatrics alone are fantastic.)
Thousands of people, feasting and drinking and living in make-shift shelters on the side of the hill in Jerusalem. Basically, religious camping. With a lot of wine involved.
And what often happens when lots of people drink and camp together?
Can you see how two people might end up in the wrong tent-regretting decisions they made the night before? It’s not surprising, then, that the next morning the teachers of the law and the Pharisees drag a woman into the the temple courts who they’d caught with a man she wasn’t married to…
They drag this woman the morning after to Jesus because they want to trap him. They don’t believe in him, they’ve rejected him, they want to expose him as a fraud. And so they challenge him with a passage from the law.
And then he bends down and writes on the ground.
And what does he write?
Well, what have the Pharisees and teachers of the law been doing this past eight days?
They’ve been at the feast.
And what have they been doing at the feast?
They’ve been teaching, right?
And what have they been teaching?
They’ve been teaching about water.
What passages would they have been teaching?
Interesting you ask. One of the passages that was taught at the Feast of Tabernacles is from the prophet Jeremiah. The passage is about dust, which is what you have if you don’t have water. Here are a few lines
LORD, you are the hope of Israel;
all who forsake you will be put to shame.
Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust…
So what does Jesus do? He takes one of the passages they all would have been familiar with and he turns it on them, all without saying a word. Here is living water, in their midst, inviting them to trust him, but they don’t believe him. They try to trap him. They teach about God and water and hope and new life but when it arrives in their midst in a person they hadn’t expected, they can’t do it. They cling to the familiar, rejecting the living water that’s right in front of them.
What does Jesus write on the ground?
jwhittenii asked you:
What about a What is the Bible on Adam & Eve—historical vs. fictional?