Sunday, 9 February 2020

Drop Our Stones - John 8

A small crowd had settled to eagerly listen to Jesus. He was sat in the temple courts. It was orderly, done in public, and all good. But then there were scuffles and commotion. A group of men are man-handling a woman, forcing her into the centre of the circle, pointing the finger, accusing. This is not going to be a quiet teaching session any more!

The men are teachers of the law and Pharisees - those who interpret and try to live by the strictest of standards. They make themselves clear: 'This woman was caught in the act of adultery - we know the Law of Moses: she should be stoned to death! What do you say?'. She was caught on the job, it is a clear-cut case, there is a straightforward pronouncement to be made ...

Except that this is a setup for Jesus. Yes they caught the woman, but the mean are more interested in proving a point of Law (or their interpretation of it) than the woman herself. And we must ask about the bloke caught in the act: where is he now? The Law is very clear: both have wronged - and the penalty is to be applied to both. In fact the Law passages that dig into sexual ethics (Leviticus chapters 18 and 20) write generally of male responsibility ('If a man ...') - so if you want to be picky based on the Law, haul the man in before Jesus!

The teachers brought this case because they know Jesus is a man of compassion towards wrong-doers, and compassion creates dilemma: the desire to love/rescue/redeem is at odds with the needs for justice and upholding what is right. It is a dilemma for God: how is He both perfectly loving and perfectly holy and just all at the same time?

Jesus responds by writing in the ground. We don't know what he wrote! What he seems to be doing is shutting down the debate, at least on their terms. There was a debate to be had, but not locked into their framework. Jesus comes out with wisdom: 'any of you who is without wrong be the first to stone her'. There is silence and pondering. One by one they melt away ...

Maybe at last they start to perceive their own wrongdoing, their own messed up lives. Our wrongs are a great leveller - we all make mistakes that puts us in the same boat compared to the utter holiness of God.

Now for the first time the woman is addressed. Note how Jesus asks her not about her wrong, but about the condemnation of the accusers: 'has no one condemned you?'. Of course he knows the answer - he's seen them all walk off. 'For God did not send his Son to the world to condemn it, but to save it' writes John (3:17). Jesus puts that mandate into practice right here with the woman: 'Neither do I condemn you'. But he adds the words: 'Go and leave your life of wrongdoing'.

Lets be honest. In the world and our society morality (especially sexual morality) is all over the place. There is lots of 'messed up-ness'! Yet let us also be honest: we inhabit that space, and we play our own part in that messed up-ness. Remember also that in society morality can shift - there have been huge shifts in the last 60 years. That can be bad, it can be good, and curiously it can also be a mix of bad and good. As 'Church' (i.e. all Christians everywhere) we need to think carefully how we respond. Sadly the 'Church' in general has made a mess of it, often being obsessed with certain aspects which has proved unhelpful.

Our task is to find how to respond in the way of Jesus. John wrote about God revealing - in 1:17 he put 'For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus'. Yes we need to think and interpret law (as revealed by God), but for us always tempered with the way of Jesus! The story with the woman plays that out: Jesus gives the woman an opportunity for freedom (no condemnation!), but with it a calling out for her to be holy. That was the original intent of the Law - Leviticus 18 was also a call to be holy, to be a contrast to the previous inhabitants of the land. Remember that Jesus came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it.

So as we wrestle with these issues, including expression of sexuality, orientation and identity, let us not simply debate in certain locked-in patterns of thinking (even found within the Church in general). Let us wrestle with it to discover the way of Jesus, realising that will probably need us to drop some of our stones! Our desire is to respond in a Jesus-like way: a way that doesn't ignore the wrongdoing, or doesn't just blandly say "its all okay / doesn't matter". Yet a way that points someone to Jesus - so they can discover freedom in Christ, and they themselves can hear the Spirit's genuine calling out, a call on their lives to be holy.

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