This has been a week for taking deep breaths! Terrible news was reported from throughout much of the country. There were pipe bombs sent to fourteen political leaders including a former president of the United States, two people were killed in racially motivated shooting at a Kroger store and eleven people were killed in a hate crime as they celebrated Sabbath at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Those are three of the highlights or should I say the low lights of the week. Sometimes it feels like evil is winning. Again… Breathe! My heart hurts from all of the needless rhetoric, hate speech and the taking of human lives. We continue to hurt others by our words, they way we judge people as we remain uncompromising in our opinions.
Now back to the overused verse: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” It seems that we as Christians have made this text into a cliché that can be pulled out of our debate arsenal when we want to shut people up. However have you noticed that those words are used when we want to prove OUR point? Who is going to argue with it? When someone uses it against me, it rankles me and makes me double down on finding a suitable rebuttal. More often than not though I just drop the conversation, which can leave me frustrated and at times angry. I wonder if that is the way the religious leaders felt with Jesus? Was that the response Jesus intended was he offering them something more?
Throughout the gospels, Jesus was so good at equalizing the playing field for everyone around him. Notice that he treated the leaders and the accused woman as equals. He addressed them both without accusation or conviction. First he addressed the religious leaders not by arguing the Law but he made them consider their accusations through his eyes. Jesus doesn’t correct their misinterpretation of the Law, which actually says that both the man and the woman who were committing adultery should be stoned. Jesus knew what was missing from their accusation, the man. So when Jesus gave the leaders the opportunity to throw a stone at the woman they knew they could not do so because they were wrong. Again, I wonder if Jesus might have had something else in mind when he made the statement. Hold that thought…
Now to the woman… The leaders likely caught her and her partner in the act of sex and the text doesn’t give us the story behind the act. Was she a prostitute or a widow without money for food? The text does not explain and really for Jesus it is not important. When he told the woman she was free from her accusers and telling her to sin no more was he offering her more than forgiveness? What if Jesus was offering both the religious leaders and the accused woman, freedom? That’s right freedom! The leaders were the interpreters of the Law. It was their duty to keep the laws however they were so focused on keeping the letter of the Law that they didn’t show compassion for people, only judgment. What if Jesus offered them freedom, from the past so they could change their focus from keeping the rules to finding a new way of caring for people? Also, what if Jesus offered the woman a new way of living into the future? She was set free from her accusers but she was also free to choose a different path going forward. Through Jesus’s love and grace, lives were freed from the bonds of oppression with no regard of money, power or status. The lost, the poor, the broken and the forgotten were equals in Jesus’ sight.
Thinking about this particular biblical text gives me a new and different perspective of freedom and the power to change my ways and become better at listening to people and their perspectives. It also frees me up not judge others according to my expectations and views. Just like the leaders and the accused woman I think it also frees Jesus to work within us to leave our old habits behind and look to a more loving respectful future…Together.