Difficult Decisions Kobayashi Maru
Topic: Difficult Decisions Scripture: John 8:2–8:11
Before we get started, I’d like everyone to just take a look in your bulletin (or up on the screen) at the title of my message this morning. I believe there are three groups of people now in this room. There’s perhaps the largest group that read the words “Kobayashi Maru” and have no idea what it means. There’s a second group that does know what it means and has already rolled their eyes. And there is a third, likely very small group, that might just be more excited for this sermon than any other sermon you’ve heard at our church. One of the encouragements the apostle Paul offers to us as Christ-followers is to attempt to be all things to all people so that the life and truth of Jesus can reach every person. In the past, I’ve tried intentionally to ensure I address the different groups of people who join us for worship. I’ve referenced parents, those who work in an office setting, students who are in school, and even more abstract tribes like those in a particularly painful season of grief or struggle. This morning, all things to all people is addressing a very specific group of people with my title, Trekkies. That’s right. Many of you probably thought you had me pegged, didn’t you? Thought I was only a Star Wars guy. Well, shame on you. I’m a much more complex person than you may have thought. Ok, ok. In all seriousness, I don’t think you could call me a Trekkie. But there is an aspect out of Star Trek that I got to thinking about a few weeks ago when the Monday morning men’s breakfast group studied the passage we’re going to look at this morning.
In Star Trek, Star Fleet Academy is the place where officers and pilots are trained and prepared for their journeys out into the final frontier. The Kobayashi Maru is a simulation test given to all cadets hoping to hold positions of leadership. In the simulation, cadets face a situation where they must make a choice. A civilian ship is filled with innocent people and badly damaged, drifting into enemy territory, and broadcasting a distress signal. The cadet must choose to either violate established borders and risk an interstellar incident while also endangering their own ship and crew in order to save those in danger, or, ignore the distress signal and leave the civilians to perish. No matter what, the cadets lose. And that is the design of the test. Starfleet uses it to test the character and heart of their rising leaders. Captain James T. Kirk is renowned for his unique and unorthodox way in which he handled the Kobayashi Maru.
But it was not only fictional space captains that faced no-win situations. In fact, the sad reality is that these types of decisions are far too common. Even Jesus faced his own Kobayashi Maru, and it is that moment in his story that we look at this morning as we conclude our message series on Difficult Decisions. We’re in John 8:2-11.
So we come to this complicated moment in the ministry of Jesus. The religious leaders of the time are trying to trap Jesus. And maybe you noticed this already, but it’s important to point out that the religious leaders really went all out in their plans to create this trap they were trying to spring on our Savior. The first thing we should notice is where it takes place. Jesus is sitting in the temple courts and teaching those around Him. We’re told this was where “all the people gathered,” and that’s a bit of an understatement. The temple courts were the closest thing this community had to a town square. It saw a massive amount of foot traffic. People from far and wide would make their way through this area as they came and went into the temple for the necessary rituals and religious practices of the day. The fact Jesus is where the people are shouldn’t surprise us. And I guess it shouldn’t surprise us that the people who disliked Jesus the most waited for a moment like this to try and knock him down a peg.
The religious leaders bring before Jesus, and everyone else gathered around him a woman who was caught in adultery. Now, we don’t know the details behind how the religious leaders got this woman in their grasp, but biblical scholarship is pretty united on one thing: this is fishy. They had intended to trap Jesus, which means they needed bait. They found it in this woman. She is a pawn in their game of power and humiliation. Where is the man who was involved in the adultery? How do they know what she did? Make no mistake, these religious leaders (and I hate even calling them that in moments like this) have no sense of the value for this woman’s life. They simply and callously throw her in front of Jesus and the crowds as if they’ve played an unbeatable hand in some card game.
And this is where Jesus faces his seemingly no-win decision, his Kobayashi Maru. If he “follows the law,” then this woman will be sentenced to a brutal execution. If Jesus tells them to let the woman go, he risks appearing to ignore and disrespect the words of Moses and the authority of God’s words in the Jewish scriptures. You can almost see the sneer and smug grins on the faces of the religious leaders as they wait to watch their trap bring Jesus down. But that’s not what happens, is it?
Jesus stoops down and begins writing in the sand. Historians, pastors, theologians, and even social justice advocates across the ages have imagined and postured what it is Jesus wrote in the sand that day. But we will never know. And you know what I think? I don’t think it matters all that much what Jesus wrote. Because I’m not sure that was the point. I think Jesus used that act as a way to shift the balance of power the religious leaders had thought they’d gained. The prestigious, albeit wicked, men are chomping at the bit to see Jesus falter or fail, and instead, they are forced to stand there and wait. And then Jesus does the absolute last thing they expected him to…he puts the power in their hands. “Let any of you who are without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And one by one, they walk away, leaving the woman with Jesus who tells her to go and to leave the habits and choices of sin she has immersed herself in.
Anyone who is a Star Trek fan would know that comparing Jesus to Captain Kirk is a pretty significant stretch. But in regard to how these two faced their own version of the Kobayashi Maru, they have something in common. Kirk, recognizing that the simulation was rigged for him to fail, actually hacked the Star Fleet system and modified the test so that he could beat it. Jesus kind of did the same. Jesus turned the explosive algorithm of the religious leaders trap back onto them. He found a way where there was not thought to be one. And in doing so, he not only defeated his opponents, but Jesus also saved the life of the poor woman that was being used as a tool and showed her a new way.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve tried to use the example and the inspiration of biblical accounts in order to help us learn how to navigate life’s Difficult Decisions. One thing we learn sooner or later is that not all problems have a solution, at least not one that always satisfies us. And in those moments, we can feel trapped and powerless. We can feel like the whole world is against us. We can feel hopeless. When each of us faces our own Kobayashi Maru, it is often unique and personal to our families and us. Because of that reality, I don’t feel we can possess a definitive “how-to” guide for those types of situations. But I do think this experience of Jesus can offer us some insights or even tips when we feel stuck in a no-win or difficult situation.
The first thing Jesus teaches us from this moment in his story is this: slow down. Often in moments where we are facing a difficult decision, especially those where we can’t see the right choice, we are charged with urgency or emotion. Our temptation is to act quickly and process later. But Jesus didn’t do that. He stopped, knelt, and drew in the dirt. He breathed. He reflected. And in those moments, he not only collected himself, but he also allowed the circumstances surrounding him to become less charged and volatile. We can take that page from Christ’s book in our own lives and make the intentional effort to stop, breathe, and pray, before reacting in a difficult situation.
The other thing Jesus shares with us is this: remember what’s most important. Jesus knew what was most important. It wasn’t proving himself the smartest one in the room. It wasn’t winning. It wasn’t putting the religious leaders in their place. The most important thing was a person. It was the woman who was suffering. We might not have it as a factor in every difficult decision. Still, I can encourage you with this; if you’re flummoxed by a difficult decision and one choice fosters the value of another life or helps another person, that’s where I would err. Sometimes we don’t have the option of making the right choice. Sometimes we simply have to make the compassionate choice, the loving choice, even if it’s painful.
And finally, the last thing Jesus models for us when we’re within difficult decisions is this: move on. Jesus told that woman to, “Go.” To go and live her life and to do it in a new way. Sometimes the worst thing about the most difficult decisions of our lives isn’t the actual decision we made, it’s the weeks/months/years we allow that decision to chain us down and hold us back from being the whole, alive people we were created to be. That’s not what Jesus wants for us. That’s not what he wanted for the woman in our passage. He told her to go and to leave behind that life of brokenness and sin. To go and leave behind the abuse she had received from those who were supposed to be religious leaders. To go and leave behind the judgment that had been slammed upon her shoulders. He told her to go and gave her the invitation to live a real, full, meaningful life.
We all face Difficult Decisions in our lives. And each decision may be a personal one and possibly painful in some way. I hope this message and this series has given you some new perspective on those decisions. Whether that’s a Painful Obedience you might be facing, or a test of your integrity, or even something as difficult as your own Kobayashi Maru.