I’ve been thinking a lot about bullies lately, for multiple reasons. Nick Vujicic came to our state to speak on the topic in the public schools, and for the last month I’ve been reading a lot about bullies in the Bible. It’s got me thinking.
The bullies I’ve been reading about, they were recognized leaders of the Jewish faith. Pharisees, teachers of the law. Yet they used their position to bully the people, lording over them with their books of rules and their pious attitudes. They used their place of leadership to make themselves look better, and they gained and kept their positions of power by putting others down.
Into this mess walked Jesus.
Jesus, who was free of sin. Jesus, who was free of pride. Jesus, who was the absolute authority on the word of God because he was the Word made flesh. Jesus, who was the ultimate example of leadership because he was the Leader of the universe, God-made-flesh, the alpha and omega.
And do you know what? Those Pharisees, the Sadducees, the teachers of the law? They bullied Jesus.
They taunted him with their words, they belittled him with their actions. They put him down, they teased him. They gathered crowds around them and then pointed out every flaw they thought they saw in him, putting him down for everything from his hand-washing habits to his identity itself. They baited him and tried to get him in trouble with the Romans. They bragged about their extensive knowledge of the law and tried to use the word of the law against the Word himself, forgetting entirely the spirit of the law and thus shutting themselves out from the Spirit Itself.
What made them do this? What makes a bully act as he does? At the core, bullying is carried out by people whose identity is not secure, by those whose own leadership and character will not stand up by itself, but needs to be propped up by putting others beneath them. They exclude others and spread lies about them, they act in dark corners rather than stand in the light, they belittle the accomplishments and abilities of others while they exaggerate their own. And the difficult thing about it is, the more upstanding and impressive another person’s abilities….the harder the bullies fight to bring him down.
They killed Jesus.
But the bullies, they didn’t win. They were, in fact, being used by God to carry out his greater plan; the plan by which the God of the universe came to Earth to turn things upside down, to show us that it is the meek who inherit the Earth, the suffering who will be comforted, the poor in spirit to whom the Kingdom of God belongs. Jesus came to show us the perfect vision of leadership, the kind that operates out of kindness and gentleness, the kind that serves others rather than serves self, the kind that does not break a bruised reed or belittle a child. Oh, the bullies seemed to win for a moment there…but by their own words and deeds they will be condemned. And, I’ve read the Book…in the end, Jesus will ride through it all with his army of light, wash through all the darkness and expose every malicious act, every deceitful word. In the end? There will be no more bullies.
One instance in the book of John struck a chord. The bullies, in their drive to take down Jesus and show themselves as the true authority over the Jews, they caught a woman in the act of adultery. Sensing an opportunity, they waited until they saw Jesus surrounded by people at the temple. Seeing those people listening to Jesus, hungry for his words, it must have infuriated the Pharisees…and bullies love to put others down in front of a crowd. So out they came, the poor wretched woman dragging along behind, and they interrupted the conversation to bait Jesus with a problem. Here was a woman caught in adultery, the law of Moses said to stone her! What would Jesus say? They were thinking, their minds overcome with malice, that Jesus would now be in a bind. To say no to the stoning would be to go against Mosaic law! But to say yes, would be to go against Roman law. Either way, Jesus would be in trouble.
Never mind that the law stated that both the woman and the man caught in the act were to be stoned. Never mind that this law was almost never actually carried out. Never mind that they themselves were taking no responsibility for the problem.
We know what Jesus did here. They persisted in questioning him (and oh, aren’t all bullies persistent?) until he said, “Let he who has no sin cast the first stone”. And he stooped there, and wrote with his finger in the dust while the crowd uncomfortably shifted from one foot to the other, then slowly walked away. And Jesus, alone with the woman, looked up from the dust and told her that he, too did not condemn her (and Jesus was the only one there with the authority to do so!). “Go,” he said, “And sin no more.”
What hurts my heart, friends, is Christian bullies. How can we look at the example of Jesus, claim to know him, and then act like the Pharisees? Christian bullies give us all a bad name. They haul out people they catch in sin and brandish them in front of the crowds, calling for damnation even as their own sin hangs out for all to see. They put themselves first and ridicule those who they are meant to serve. They serve self before Christ, and certainly before others. They put others down to make themselves look better, trying to cover the red stains of their own sin with the crimson blood of those they deem weaker than they.
Jesus shows us what it is to lead: It is to die to self, to die if necessary, to put it all out on the line in order to serve those you have been trusted with. Jesus shows us how to treat others, to accept them, love them, and call them to be better. He does not condone the woman’s sin, nor does he ignore it or gloss over it. He simply says, go, and sin no more. It’s up to her to change, and I think the chances of her deciding to do so were much better because of how Jesus handled the situation than they would have been had she been ridiculed, judged, and finally stoned. There is no place for bullying in the body of Christ, for if we follow His example it should be clear that this is not the heart of Christianity, nor of Christ himself.
I’m blessed by examples of Christ-like leadership in my own life, and I have seen first hand how this changes lives and brings the joy of salvation into the lives of many. But I have seen also the damage that bullying does, from Christian leaders whose fame is built on the broken backs of others (and whose eventual downfall shames the church at large) down to bully behavior in young Christians who ought to know better. And it makes me sad, and also angry.
There has been much speculation as to what it was that Jesus wrote there in the dust, surrounded by the crowds who found they could cast no stone. There are many good theories but so far no solid answers, until the day we can ask him ourselves. Some people think that he wrote the names of the woman’s accusers, and their own sins. I wonder if among the words he traced there in the dirt may have been…The bullies do not win.