Saturday, 16 March 2013

Circles in the Sand

GospelJohn 8:1-11 

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.
  The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody, they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?’ They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. As they persisted with their question, he looked up and said, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Then he bent down and wrote on the ground again. When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there. He looked up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus ‘go away, and do not sin any more.’

This account doesn't find a home in John's Gospel until a while after the original writings. It disturbs John's train of thought as his Jesus faces the challenge of the establishment to prove who he is; how the Light of the World could possibly be a prophet out of Galilee.

Yet the elders accepted the story as part of the oral tradition and here it now is; one of the best known accounts containing two of the best know phrases from scripture. After the ultimate forgiveness story of the Prodigal Son we are now invitied to contemplate the thoughts of the older Son - a question of condemnation.

Jesus has spent the night away from the city and the Temple. As affected by negative attitudes as many of us, it seems. As he left the overshadowing of the Mount and his Father's comforting presence he may have paused at the path that went deeper into the desert before continuing into the sunrise of a Sabbath morning.

There are some who have already gathered to hear his words and others that have been otherwise engaged. Maybe there is someone in the school of scribes and Pharisees that has made more than one Galilee connection; the rumours that surrounded the circumstances Jesus' own birth. If you wanted to provoke a reaction then a less than veiled reminder of where his mother could have found herself may be the way to achieve it.

It seems that there is no need to question your own motives when you are out to prove someone wrong; the end, of course,  justifying the means.  

This is early in the morning, daybreak, not the typical moment for a clandestine meeting. The woman had probably been 'caught' sometime the night before. And how had she been caught? An affair that was the topic of gossip; the man giving her up for the sake of keeping his name out of the marketplace? For the sake of keeping his life? After all, it does take two.

Wordless with fear, a night of being held against her will, knowing what the punishment was if the scribes were to proclaim the judgement of Moses. There was no point in the woman naming names; it would only heighten the guilt and the rage of those who have her. 

Death by stoning would not have happened often, remember the same Pharisees advising Pilate that they could not pronounce a death sentence, but how easy for a crowd to become a mob, especially with permission from those considered in 'authority'; those who know the Law. It seemed that whatever answer Jesus gave would cause trouble - inciting a riot or rejecting the Law of Moses.

The are many thoughts about what Jesus was writing in the sand; the sins of the crowd; the law of Moses; the mercy of his Father; a distracting scribble to give him time to think; 'do not be afraid' for the woman to see. 

Perhaps it gives us some personal insight when we imagine what the writing would say. Perhaps it gives the crowd the opportunity for a second glance as the tableau fixes itself into their minds and they feel the weight of the stones in their hands.

 And then the question comes.

With it, secreted memories of shame to prick at their minds; claws of guilt to knead at their bellies; nudges of admission of their own true self. Adrenalin seeping into over stretched and stiffened muscles, bringing an anti-climax of weariness into their bodies. Condemning the woman they condemn themselves.

 A flush of embarassment; mutterings and murmers; the thud of stone dropped into the sand - the sudden lightness giving them the impetus to escape.   

In the cold light of a new day; surely too early for a death sentence - it is now too late. The choice has been taken away from them - thankfully by their own consciences and the merciful grace of God.

In a few days the time will come for the people to be reminded of this lesson. Unfortunately then, the person who is asked to decide will simply wash their hands. 


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