Greetings, SBT Readers!
In 1551, a Turkish attack on the island of Gozo in the Maltese archipelago led to the forced deportation of almost the entire population -- 6,000 people in all-- to Tarhuna in Libya. As I wrote in Dragut's Galley (2004), they were snatched from "their ploughing and harvesting, their lace-making and weaving, their sheep-tending and cheese-making, their bread baking and horse racing-- all dragged from the land they loved, screaming in terror, calling on Jesus, Mary and all the saints for deliverance..." This catastrophe and subsequent military conflicts culminating in The Great Siege of Malta in 1565 became embedded in the Maltese national consciousness. To this day, curses and insults based on generational hatred of the Turks still add color to heated conversations in Maltese; more seriously, Islamophobia is a force to be reckoned with on the islands.
The forced deportation of more than 20,000 Ukrainians to Russia reminds me of this slice of Maltese history. This modern day "Babylonian Exile," along with all the crimes against humanity that the people of Ukraine continue to suffer will inevitably be embedded in the Ukrainian national consciousness, passed down to future generations. True, great stories of national pride, heroism and resistance will also shape the Ukrainian consciousness, but hatred of all things Russian will fester, damaging the soul of the nation. For Russian-speaking Ukrainians and for those with personal ties to Russia, life will be particularly challenging, leading to "a house divided."
As for the Russian national consciousness, disoriented, disillusioned troops will return home scarred by all they have seen and done. While some have mutinied, many have participated in atrocities and will carry guilt and shame for the rest of their lives. They will return to their homeland, knowing that their president and military leaders lied to them, that they were sent to war inadequately prepared and supported, and that their catastrophic losses were in vain. They will try to tell their stories to unbelieving compatriots or they will be unable to say a single word, silenced by their own angst. Without a doubt, their rage will poison all sectors of Russian life.
War, you see, is never just about the present moment. It leaves a legacy of hatred that oozes like a growing wound, spreading and infecting generations yet unborn. As we continue to pray for peace, let us also pray for an antidote to the terrible shadow of war. We may not be able to save adults from emotional and spiritual scars, but how can we create a new world for their children and their children's children?
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery and made her stand before everyone, saying
“Teacher, this woman was caught committing adultery.
In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman.
What do you say?”
They said this to trap him, so they could have an accusation to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger, but when they continued questioning him,
he straightened up, and said
“Let the one among you who is without sin
throw the first stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. In response, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders.
"Behold, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves." Matt 10:16
As Christians, we are used to imagery that describes us as sheep in a wolf-friendly world, but we are not often encouraged to be "shrewd as serpents." Though snakes and serpents were revered in ancient times, especially in goddess-based cultures, since the Genesis account of The Fall they have received a "bad rap." In Gn 3, the "crafty" serpent infiltrates the Garden of Eden, and, as the Great Deceiver, seduces Eve who then corrupts her husband. This story, unfortunately, has fueled misogyny for nearly four millennia, with women being blamed for every evil. It is therefore surprising to hear Jesus instruct his disciples to be "shrewd as serpents"; however, we see him model this wisdom during his encounter with the woman caught in adultery.
Mythically speaking, the serpent is a Trickster -- one who has mastered the art of illusion and turns expectations upside down. This is precisely what Jesus does when faced with the trap his opponents set for him. In the first place, he sees their game: to spare the woman would be to go against the Mosaic code; to stone her would be to violate his own teachings on mercy and forgiveness. Refusing to answer, he begins to write in the dust. Now we have no idea what he is writing but the onlookers are no doubt confused, possibly disturbed. Perhaps he takes his time, writing slowly, methodically, even while the religious leaders persist in harassing him. Or perhaps he writes quickly, pausing every now and again to gaze at some person in the crowd. We can imagine the whispers: "What is he writing?"
Then Jesus speaks: “Let the one among you who is without sin throw the first stone at her.”
His words and actions have the desired effect. Now he has turned the tables; those who tried to trap him are themselves themselves. To throw that first stone is to claim total innocence -- but there is Jesus writing in the dust. What does he know? What might he reveal? They don't wait to find out. Alone with the woman, Jesus dismisses the charges against her: "Has no one condemned you?... Neither do I condemn you..."
What brilliance! With silence, a bizarre action and a single challenging invitation, Jesus diffuses a potentially deadly situation, saving the woman's life. This is "serpent wisdom" at its best -- a quick response based on assessing the situation, understanding the stakes involved and turning the tables through dramatic effect. It is the kind of wisdom that surfaces when we seek alternatives to angry confrontation, relying on "soul power" -- or the Holy Spirit-- to guide us when we find ourselves in impossible situations. Yes, we have to be as "innocent as doves" but there are times when a little shrewdness
summons forth the Trickster in us -- and, like Jesus, we set in motion the best of possible outcomes.
REQUEST FOR INPUT
If you belong to a ministry team (pastoral team, retreat team, liturgical team, chaplaincy team, administrative team, environmental team, etc.) I would welcome your feedback regarding a Ministry Team Assessment Tool I have developed. If this interests you, please click on my newly updated website, www.embracingpossibility.com and click on the MINISTRY TEAM ASSESSMENT QUIZ. Thanks for considering this!