Casting stones

This passage sounds harsh to modern ears.

Numbers 15:32-36
32 While the Israelites were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses, Aaron, and the entire community. 34 They placed him in custody because it had not been decided what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD told Moses, “The man is to be put to death. The entire community is to stone him outside the camp.” 36 So the entire community brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

Killed. Stoned to death. For picking up wood on the Sabbath. Not only did the Lord command it, the assembly did it. Each person – the entire community – took him outside the camp (where the trash is, where the dead bodies are). Each person picked up a stone and threw it at him, until he died. That isn’t one stone. That is thousands of them. Each person did this.

Can you imagine being one of those people in the crowd? Can you imagine looking around for a stone? Everyone else around you is doing the same thing. Are there enough stones for everybody? Do you pick up a big one, or a pebble? Something with a nice heft to it, or something inconsequential?

You have to pick up a stone in this story. If you don’t, you are disobeying a command from God. This person has violated the Sabbath by working. This person has broken a law that keeps the community going. This person has to be removed, or the infection will spread – and make no doubt about it, law-breaking is an infection. If one person gets away with it, then more will. Then there won’t be a reason for the rules anymore, because everyone will be doing their own thing. There won’t be a community anymore. There won’t be a thing called “Israel” anymore.

Maybe you know this guy. Maybe you’ve talked to him. Maybe you’ve seen him while you were out gathering your daily allotment of manna. Maybe he’s in your tribe, and you’ve carried the tent poles of the Temple with him. Maybe he’s sat around your campfire at night. Maybe he’s closely related to you. Maybe he is your uncle. Or father. Or son.

Do you still pick up a stone?

If so, how hard do you throw it?

What are the “sins” today? What “stones” do we throw? They might not kill the body, but they surely kill the spirit.

Is throwing stones our job anymore? What does Jesus say?

John 8:2-11 (HCSB)
2 At dawn He went to the Temple complex again, and all the people were coming to Him. He sat down and began to teach them. 3 Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. 5 In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” 6 They asked this to trap Him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse Him. Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger. 7 When they persisted in questioning Him, He stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Then He stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. 9 When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only He was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, He said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

It isn’t our job to cast stones, or to point out sin in others.

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Hole in the roof

Let’s read the story of Jesus and the people who cut a hole in the roof to get their sick friend to him for healing.

(This is in the American Standard Version, which is from 1901 and thus free to use. Please feel free to use any translation you like for a more understandable version. The website BibleGateway is very helpful for switching between translations.)

Mark 2:1-5
And when he entered again into Capernaum after some days, it was noised that he was in the house. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, no, not even about the door: and he spake the word unto them. 3 And they come, bringing unto him a man sick of the palsy, borne of four. 4 And when they could not come nigh unto him for the crowd, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed whereon the sick of the palsy lay. 5 And Jesus seeing their faith saith unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins are forgiven.

Imagine the scene. Jesus is home, and everybody has found out. He wants some rest, but the crowds won’t let him. They are desperate for his message and his healing.

Now imagine yourself in the scene. You are there, with all those people.

Read the passage out loud, and see what sticks out for you. Does anything resonate with what you are experiencing now? Does anything seem confusing? Ask God to help you understand it.

Do you identify with any of the characters?

Are you Jesus just trying have a moment of peace? He was constantly trying to have some time for himself, and the crowds were forever finding him. We all need time to recharge. Do you feel like you are constantly helping others yet never taking time for yourself? Where do you go to fill your cup?

Are you one of the four friends desperate to take care of your friend who is sick? How do you feel? How long have you been carrying him? We carry our friends in prayer to Jesus. Who is on your prayer list? How long have they been there?

Are you the friend who is on the litter, suffering from palsy? How does the bed feel? Are you anxious because your friends have lifted you up really high? How do you feel about going to see Jesus this way? Excited? Anxious? Embarrassed? Sometimes we need healing so badly that it takes desperate measures to make it happen.

Are you a member of the crowd? Are you right up close, packed in tight, or further towards the edge, where you can’t hear very well? What do you see? What do you hear? Do you want to get further back, or closer?

Are you Jesus’ parents, wondering how his ministry got so big? Did you expect the crowd would be so large? How are you going to pay for the roof to be repaired?

It’s okay to identify with several of the characters.

Think about the roof. Have you ever had to go in an unusual way to seek healing?

Think about the friends. The person who needed healing wasn’t even able to get there. His friends carried him there. Do you have friends like that? Are you that kind of friend?

Notice it was because of the faith of the friends that Jesus healed the sick man. The sick man didn’t have to do anything. How does that make you feel?

Jesus often says “Your faith has healed you.” Think about that. What does that mean to you?