WelCom April 2019:
John 8: 1-11
1 And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in the middle 4 they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, 5 and in the Law Moses has ordered us to stone women of this kind. What have you got to say?’ 6 They asked him this as a test, looking for an accusation to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. 7 As they persisted with their question, he straightened up and said, ‘Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8 Then he bent down and continued writing on the ground. 9 When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until the last one had gone and Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained in the middle. 10 Jesus again straightened up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11 ‘No one, sir,’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus. ‘Go away, and from this moment sin no more.’
Fifth Sunday of Lent 2019
Today’s gospel story begins at the Feast of Booths. This feast, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, began in late September and lasted eight days from Sunday to Sunday. ‘Three times a year all your menfolk are to appear before Yahweh your God in the place Yahweh chose: at the feast of Unleavened Bread, at the feast of Weeks, at the feast of Tabernacles. No one must appear before Yahweh empty-handed, but every man must give what he can, in proportion to the blessing Yahweh your God gives you.’ (Deut. 16:15-16).
Similarly, in my early years of farming, during a New Year break, single men and women, as well as young couples would go to the Opunake Beach in caravans or tents and spend a week’s holiday there. While behavioural questions of the single folk were often raised by their elders, the realisation that many were obliged to milk cows twice daily, and sometimes travel up to 40kms from farm to the beach, engendered enough sympathy to convince their detractors to overlook their perceived transgressions. The Taranaki weather early in January was at best unreliable so conviviality often became the order of the day rather than continually being in the sea. Good times were had around BBQs and life-long friendships were established. The setting of today’s gospel story may indeed have been similar.
In today’s gospel we find the devious scribes and Pharisees searching for a reason to trap Jesus. Their search was rewarded with the discovery of a woman committing adultery. They did not bother with her co-adulterer. Just the woman on her own would serve their purpose in challenging Jesus. He was their target and they were prepared to sacrifice the girl to achieve their ends. Their question to Jesus was how He would deal with a woman taken in adultery? Would He agree with the seventh commandment, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ given to Moses by Yahweh thus requiring her punishment? Or would Jesus show compassion to the girl who had broken the Law of Yahweh and allow her to be forgiven? This would violate one of the Old Testament’s great traditions and bring His reputation into question among His followers. What would Jesus decide? Would He capitulate on His Father’s teaching, or would He let the blood hungry mob stone the girl? Jesus did not respond to their justice query. He just doodled on the sand with His finger. They became bored with His indecision until Jesus told them, ‘Let the person without sin cast the first stone’ (Jn 8:8). He continued writing on the ground. The crowd left one by one beginning with the oldest. When Jesus looked up, He was alone with the woman. He asked, ‘Has no-one condemned you?’ She replied, ‘No one sir’ (Jn 8:11). Jesus dismissed her, instructing her not to sin again.
Noting the age-old attitude of the male persecutors who had no love or compassion for the woman in today’s gospel, let us think about what our faith means. Is it about obeying laws and rules, or is it about love, compassion, forgiveness and understanding? The latter not only helps us to properly address relationship problems of today – such as those which the #MeToo movement has highlighted – it also might help us to simply enjoy Opunake Beach with our friends and neighbours, even on a bad day.
Tom Gibson is a retired dairy farmer and is a parishioner at St Joseph’s, Stratford.