I grew up watching M*A*S*H, the hit TV series from 1972 – 1986. I picked up on a phrase, “Catch-22” used by Corporal Maxwell ‘Max’ Q. Klinger as he failed to get kicked out of the army and to be sent home.
Catch-22 is a satirical, historical novel by the American author Joseph Heller, first published in 1961. Resulting from its specific use in the book, the phrase “Catch-22” is common idiomatic usage meaning “a no-win situation” or “a double bind” of any type. Within the book, “Catch-22” is a military rule, the self-contradictory circular logic that, for example, prevents anyone from avoiding combat missions. In Heller’s own words:
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.
Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” Yossarian observed.
“It’s the best there is,”Doc Daneeka agreed.
We see another Catch-22 situation way before these guys wrote the book and TV scripts:
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. John 8:3-6ff
What was the Catch-22?
The teachers of the law had modified the law to suit their purpose here. The woman could only be killed as per Deuteronomy 22:23-24 and it required the execution of both the woman and the man (Deuteronomy 20:10;22:22). Clearly they had let the man go, or how could they have caught them in the act. The trap was that the Romans did not allow the Jews to carry out death sentences (John 18:31) .
If he says to not stone her he would be unsupportive of the Jewish law and if he says to stone her he would be in breach of the Roman law. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t – Catch-22.
But don’t you just love the wisdom of Jesus. He did say that the truth will set you free! He applies His own Catch-22:
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. John 8:6-9
Jesus implies that it’s okay to cast stones at this woman and thereby can not be accused of not upholding their Jewish law. But then he throws in the catch, the qualification is only if you are without any sin. Catch-22.
But you know, the real lesson is the following:
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:10,11
Jesus doesn’t condone what the woman did, he however gives her one more opportunity to live her life free from sin. No more adultery. It was now up to her to appropriate that opportunity.
I don’t know about you, but I find these Catch-22 situations hit us everyday. Which way do we choose? There is the two options presented but a third more wise way usually exists. And we have access to that wisdom by asking – it’s called prayer!
What will you do today when you face a Catch-22?