Jesus vs. Religious Bigots
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Wednesday, March 11th: Psalm 128; Ezekiel 36:22-32; and John 7:53—8:11. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
The story of today’s Johannine passage is fascinating. In my NRSV of the Bible, the selection is printed within double-brackets. The footnote indicates that it is absent “in most ancient authorities.” It also indicates that this passage, when included in Sacred Scripture, has floated around and anchored at various spots in the Gospels.
Many scholars argue that this pericope fits more naturally after Luke 21:38 than it does here in John. I imagine that this account of the woman caught in adultery was too highly regarded as belonging to apostolic origin to be ignored, but that it was also so highly problematic that no one knew exactly what to do with it. John, being the latest of the Gospels, had to include it rather than lose it.
To appreciate the beauty of this passage, we need to be familiar with Mosaic Law. Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22 make absolutely clear that the punishment for adultery is death, for the woman and for the man. Equally clear is the description that the woman “had been caught in adultery.” Well, if she was caught, where was the one she was caught with? Did these high minded and pious religious leaders drag the terrified woman to the Temple for condemnation and lynching, while conveniently forgetting to bring along the man?
Was this woman shaking with fear, embarrassed and barely clothed when she was hauled before Jesus? Amid the clamour of the mob, did Jesus bend down and start outlining in the dirt the words of Leviticus and Deuteronomy?
When these oh so righteous religious men continued to prod Jesus, and after Jesus responded with those famous words of “he who is without sin,” Jesus knelt down again and wrote in the dirt. Did He begin to write a name familiar to these accusers? Did they realize suddenly that Jesus was going to apply the Law even against their peer? Did they walk away shamefully knowing that Jesus had unmasked them as nothing more than frauds clothed in religious garb?
When the lynch mob dispersed, and the now confused woman was standing there alone with Jesus, He spoke with her. He acknowledged her as a person. He gave her dignity. He challenged her to be better, but Jesus did not condemn her. Often times in the ancient world, adultery was a convenient cover-up for rape. It is hard for me to imagine the depth of relief and wonder that she must have felt in Jesus’ presence, how awed she must have been by a compassionate Saviour after being dragged by religious zealots through the streets.
This is the Jesus who inspires and motivates me. This is the Jesus who stands up to hypocrisy in all its horrid forms even to the point of crucifixion. This is the Jesus who even bothered the biblical editors who didn’t know what to do with this story of adultery forgiven. This is the Jesus who challenges and unmasks religious bigotry in any of its forms. This is the Jesus I want to come to better know this Lenten season.
Faith, love and chitchat.
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