“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King….”
-BEAVER in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”
In the movie “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, little Lucy has met the evil White Witch, barely escaping her clutches. Lucy wants a savior, a rescuer, someone to protect her. But she is nervous about this lion, Aslan. She asks, is he ‘safe’. Her real question is, ‘Is he tame’? Beaver’s response, of course, is that Aslan is not safe at all.
Aslan, the Christ figure in this movie, is a challenge to Lucy. His image challenges us as well. Western Christianity, in many respects, has made Jesus “tame”. We portray Him as the “Good Shepherd”, quiet, meek, and unassuming. Many of our artistic depictions of Jesus portray Him as so thin and emaciated that He could almost be described as ‘a lady with a beard’.
But, this is not at all the Jesus of the Scriptures. His encounters with the Pharisees and Sadducees amounted to a series of escalating confrontations, where Jesus called out these groups who wielded enormous civil, political, and religious power. Jesus is ‘good’, but He is entirely ‘dangerous’.
When the Pharisees and Sadducees decided to see this itinerant rabbi named Jesus, He openly exposed their ill intentions and insulted their authority, rather than welcome them. He went out of His way to pick a fight with them! He recognized them as His enemy, and looked for opportunities to engage them. When they stopped coming out to see Him, He sought them out on their turf, the synagogues and Temple. He was on a mission, and it wasn’t to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya”.
One of the most iconic of these episodes occurred in the Temple in Jerusalem, and is told in John 8.
It’s morning, and Jesus is teaching. The Pharisees enter, probably creating as much commotion as they can. They usher in the woman caught in adultery. For effect, I can imagine they barely let her clothe herself. They want this “whore” to look the part for their trap.
The Pharisees know that Jesus is ‘good’. They know by now that he is not “tame”- He’s dangerous. They’ve tried to anticipate Jesus’ every move, and they are cockily assured that they have Him in a no-win situation. They will incite the crowd against Jesus when He shows her compassion and mercy. In a reference to Deuteronomy 22, they spring the trap, saying, “Master, the law says we should stone her. What do you say?” Jesus cannot violate the law!
Jesus slowly bends down and writes on the ground. As Jesus delays, I imagine the Pharisees whisper to each other, “We’ve got him! He doesn’t know what to say! Today, we will put an end to this nonsense of Jesus of Nazareth!” The Pharisees may think He is hesitating, but that is not the case. He intends to hand them a crushing defeat in His Father’s house.
Slowly, He looks at them and casually exposes the entire sordid conspiracy with a single, short statement. In a direct reference to Deuteronomy 17, He says, “Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” Deuteronomy 17 requires that the first stone be thrown by the witness to the sin. Adding insult, Jesus ignores them all, crouching back to the ground and scribbling with His finger.
His actions say, “I’m not afraid of you- not even a little.” It is a dangerous response, bordering perhaps on reckless, coming from anyone but Jesus. But He has now trapped them, again. If they stone the woman now, it will be declaration of their participation. They will indict themselves. They have no choice but to slink away.
The Offer of Strength
Finally, Jesus turns His attention to the woman. As Jesus stands up straight, He looks directly at her, penetrating through her shame. She has been defiled, embarrassed, and humiliated. Jesus opens their short conversation with a simple question. “Woman, where are your accusers?” It closes seconds later with a call to conversion, “Go and sin no more.”
But, Jesus’ offer is much more than compassion and mercy. Before He offered her mercy, He offered her strength. He placed himself squarely between her and the attack. His compassion, mercy, and forgiveness spring forth from STRENGTH, not passivity, not weakness. His actions said, “You are worth fighting for. I am willing to fight for you! I CHOOSE to stand between you and them. I choose YOU!”
Jesus met the opponent on the field of battle, in the rough and tumble of daily life. He did not shrink from it or fear it. I rather suspect that, in a certain sense, He relished it, even reveled in it. It is the mission of Jesus to vanquish His enemy, to scatter them, and to destroy the dark forces that oppose Him and ravage His loved ones.
This woman, in a larger sense, represents Jesus and the Church, the entire body of Christ. The Church is, after all, the “bride” referred to in Revelation. She has been beaten, battered, abused, and defiled, from within and without. Still, when the enemy tries to claim her, He knows who she really is, even if she has forgotten it herself. And so, He does not fear. He is afraid of nothing, and does not shy from the battle. After all, He is not a tame lion.