Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Go and sin no more
My Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Grace and peace to you in God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ whose life and death have set us free. One rather effective way of praying is to read a passage of sacred scripture and then ask God to send the Holy Spirit down upon you to help, through your imagination, to enter into what’s happening in the story. So, you could imagine from last week that you’re the younger son being embraced by a loving Father who forgives you after you squandered your inheritance on a life of dissipation. Or, from the week before, you can imagine yourself standing on a mountain when you notice a bush on fire. When you investigate a little closer, you hear the voice of God revealing a part of himself to you, speaking his name with love. If you’ve never tried this type of prayer before, I’d encourage you to do so especially if you have a good imagination. However, let me provide one caution from today’s gospel before you begin.
Today’s Gospel passage carries with it much baggage. It is used by many self-styled theologians, secular humanists, and politicians to attempt to suppress the moral voice of the church. “Judge not, lest ye be judged” people generally say at the end of this story, though that’s actually from a completely different part of a completely different book of the Bible. In this story, we know that Jesus was afraid to come to Jerusalem because the Jewish leadership was trying to kill him. He comes in secret with his disciples and immediately goes to the Temple. You’d think he’d want to avoid this place so filled with the very people who want to kill him but, as we heard a few weeks ago when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, he wants to be in his Father’s house. While he’s in the Temple, he has several interactions with the Jewish leaders who were responsible for it, the scribes and Pharisees. This is just one of them.
Imagine, for a second, being the woman caught in the act of adultery. You’re probably not completely dressed and certainly not dressed well enough to be standing on the Temple. You’ve been caught in an incredibly embarrassing act cheating or your husband, helping someone else cheat on his wife, or both. In the back of your mind you knew this could happen but you decided that the chances of anyone caring were pretty slim. I mean, everyone does this, right? It’s not like your murdering someone, after all. Suddenly the doors are ripped open and you are hauled to the Temple Mount while your co-conspirator gets off scot-free. Maybe he ran away. More likely the men know that it would be less controversial to simply kill a woman because of her status in society. You crouch on the ground covering your head only allowing one eye to be open as you anticipate the pain from the first rock. The only man who can save you from this torture is an unknown Rabbi who seems totally disconnected, almost as though he doesn’t care about the world. But, then you hear the words this man says. He doesn’t say, as Moses did, “Let the one who witnessed the crime be the one to cast the first stone.” No. Instead, he says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then, in your crouched position from the one eye you have opened, you watch as the last set of feet drops the stones they had brought with them and walks away. Lastly, it is just you and Jesus. You look up at him as he remains drawing in the dust and hear the incredible words of freedom that you never imagined you’d ever hear, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
There is nothing wrong with entering into prayer like that. However, if I may, I’d like to suggest that most of us are putting ourselves in the wrong character if we do that. The woman is a sinner caught in the act of sinning. She sits completely quiet awaiting her sentence until she is freed and then is given a fresh start, a choice as to whether she will sin from now on or not. I don’t believe this applies to most of us. I think most of us, if we are honest, are the scribes and Pharisees. Now, before you walk out, give me a chance to explain.
These people are perfectly justified in doing what they’re doing. We may be tempted to think that they’re just over-judgmental busybodies who are condemning people in what is essentially a private act. But, adultery is never a private act. At minimum, this affected three people: the two people involved and the spouse. It probably affected children, parents, friends, and a whole host of other people and it violated the sacred quality of marriage. The penalty was clear, stoning. The scribes and Pharisees want to force Jesus to have to make an unpopular decision: Either sit by and watch a woman be stoned to death by your declaration or change the law and diminish the importance of marriage. Jesus, instead, offers a third route. And, in my opinion, this is where I find myself especially entering in as one of the chief Pharisees.
Jesus sits on the ground and starts to scribble. At first, it doesn’t seem like he’s writing anything but then you can see that he is slowly writing the word “adultery” on the ground. Right when he is finished, he takes the palm of his hand and wipes it out. Then, he writes the word “hatred” on the ground and wipes it out. Then he writes the word “gossip” on the ground and wipes it out. What’s he saying? What does this mean? I don’t understand. So, he stands up and looks at us with those eyes that knew this woman was adulterous even before she set foot on the Temple and says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And we finally understand that when he was writing those sins on the ground, he knew not only her sin but the sins of each one of us. He wants to forgive us for what we’ve done. What stops us from forgiving each other? What stops us from putting down our rocks, going, and sinning no more?