8 09 2011

Stuck. Stuck in a scene of judgement, stuck with the finger pointed at you. Caught in the act and waiting for punishment. Stuck.

The woman was brought him. Caught. Bound, bleeding, shamed. Shamed. The price for quick sex, dirty sex. Or for being caught in the religious power play. It is the temple courtyard, the Pharisees’ turf. The woman is brought, crawling, bound and struggling, fearing for her life. The Romans look on, ready to pounce on any disturbance. The people look on, knowing that yesterday they were cheering Jesus and today… who knows.

This is a scene of judgement. This is a scene where those in power are using their position to emphasise their authority. The woman is just a pawn in their power game. The crowd watch as the leader of the Pharisees accuses her before Jesus: this woman was caught in adultery. Moses commands us to stone such women. What do you say?

The woman trembles. Jesus pauses. He writes something in the sand. The people clamour to see. Luke doesn‘t tell us what he says, but from what happens next, we can guess: stone her. Panic reaches the woman’s face as she realises her last chance is gone. The angry mob get twitchy fingers and begin to search for stones.

Stuck. Stuck in a scene of judgement, stuck with the finger pointed at you. Caught in the act and waiting for punishment. Stuck.

How many of us live our lives there. We are stuck there. Our relationship with and understanding of God is based on feeling like we have been caught and will be – or are being – punished. We are the woman. God is the angry mob.

Then Jesus cuts through all of it with a stroke of revolutionary genius. This is the method of execution:  Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Would you be the first? You will be arrested for inciting a riot and maybe for murder. But more than that, you will break the very law you are abusing the woman with to test Jesus. Because the law says none of us are without sin. Clever.

The people look to the Pharisees for what to do. The eldest was always the most important – and the eldest walked away. One by one they followed. Humiliated. The whole scene has changed. The stage is empty except for the woman and he who is without sin. When Jesus bends down to write again she probably thinks he is going to get a stone.

Stuck. Stuck in a scene of judgement, stuck with the finger pointed at you. Caught in the act and waiting for punishment. Stuck.

Instead Jesus walks on the knife-edge between condemning her on one hand, and overlooking her destructive lifestyle on the other. “Neither do I condemn you”, he says. “Go, and do not sin again.” The key here is that Jesus recognises her sin, and he holds her to account – but he removes the penalty for that sin. She is guilty, but she will not be killed. He did not condemn, but neither did he condone. The challenge to her was to change. For how many of us is changing harder than being punished. We want to be punished. We do not want to change. 

In our little church we are beginning a series on grace. Why? Because I think so many of us are stuck with this idea of God as the harsh religious leader who must enforce the law; but Jesus shows us a grace which see the person to be embraced not a problem to be erased.

The abused woman in this story we hope was able to find healing. We hope the community was as ready for repentance and forgiveness and new beginnings as Jesus was. Jesus did not get stuck at condemnation.

Let’s pray we don’t get stuck there either.

This story can be found in full in John 8.1-11




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