Which way do I go?

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The Letter Of The Law/The Spirit Of The Law

John 8:1 while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”]]

Of course this story highlights Jesus’ grace and mercy toward people. What I find interesting is the contrast between this story, in which a woman was caught in adultery and was forgiven, and the story in 2 Samuel chapter 6 in which Uzzah was killed by God instantly for touching the ark of the covenant. In the latter case the letter of the law was strictly observed, but in the former case the sentence was commuted.

This is a point of continual tension between Jesus and the religious authorities of his day. Pharisees were taught to observe the letter of the law and taught others to do the same. That was their job. They were NOT given latitude to deviate from law based on their contextual interpretation of the spirit of the law. Yet this is what Jesus did all the time.

I often find myself living in this tension. I want to honor the authority of scripture and allow myself to be challenged by the letter of the law, while at the same time I believe every generation has the responsibility to interpret and apply scripture to our world as it is, not as it was.

Lord grant me wisdom to follow the way I should go – even if it’s not always easy to know which way that is. Amen.

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