Labels on our foods have become very complex. On any given label, you not only have the product name, but the company that made it, along with the a list of ingredients. On top of that you now can get complete information on how many calories there are in each serving, and the amount of fat, and sugar, and on and on it goes. The idea is that as consumers we will spend time assessing this information and use to make informed choices about our own health and well being based on it. But many of us don’t. We eat what we want and, in our 24 hour culture, when we want it too, and if we buy too much of it we just throw it away.
We objectify food. We don’t think about the range and type we need each meal and each day, we don’t think about where that food has come from and who has produced it. We just consume it and we do the same with people.
We pass judgement on them based on their height, weight, skin colour, hair style, gender, sexuality and so on and we treat them as disdainful objects if they are not like us.
We objectify our food. Worse still we objectify people. We use and discard both without a thought, other than when we are satisfied.
Jesus is back in Jerusalem. He has already been causing a stir. In the previous chapter of John’s Gospel. Many are displaying an uncertainty as to who He is - is He God’s Messiah - even by his own family members are not exempt from this speculation, let alone the crowd, but at this stage Jesus wants his teaching and miracles to speak for themselves, as the great work of His coming Passion is yet to come. Yet He has already challenged the Scribes and Pharisees’ authority sufficiently for them to consider sending troops to arrest Him.
So instead of staying out of their way for a bit, Jesus brings the discussion about His identity to them. He begins teaching at the beating heart of Judaism’s life and worship, the Temple. The religious authorities seize their chance.
They bring to Jesus an adulteress. Standing her in front of Him, they were expect Jesus to act as one of them and pass judgement on her according to the Law. According to the Law the appropriate punishment would have been death, but for Jesus to pronounce this sentence would have been to infringe the prerogative of the Roman Governor, as the Jews did not have the right at the time to execute capital punishment - and in not passing sentence on her Jesus would have been seen to be setting Himself us against Moses himself. Jesus would incur the wrath of the Jews or the Romans whatever He did. A clever trap indeed.
I have often wondered what is is that Jesus wrote on the ground, especially as no one else in the assembled crowd makes reference to it. Did He do as the Romans did, and write His judgement down over this woman before pronouncing it? Did he quote scripture? All sorts of suggestions have been made as to potentially what: Exodus 23:1b - ‘You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness’ and Exodus 23:7a - ‘Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or those in the right, for I will not acquit the guilty.’ Another noble tradition says that He wrote the words of the Shema (words bound to the mind and heart and life of a faithful Jew) - ‘Love God with all that you are and love your neighbour as you love yourself. We’ll never know what Jesus wrote, but this strange act seems key to this woman’s freedom.
All too often we have all sorts of feelings about ‘the other’, another who is not like us and of whom we are ultimately afraid. We objectify them and pass judgement on them from that place of fear. What was it about the adulteress that frightened and unsettled these religious men? There must have been countless others on that day who broke the Law, why her? It was Jesus they were frightened of, as he so often did, as He saw right into the motives of their hearts. This encounter is about adultery, but not by the adultery of this woman. It is about the adultery of the Pharisees. It is an adultery we are all guilty of which sees us wedded to one set of moral beliefs whilst using, often bending them, to satisfy our own preferences and prejudices.
Jesus’ ‘Go your way and sin no more’ sits easy with us when said to those whose lives and lifestyle choices are other to us and which make us a little afraid. Out of context Jesus sides with us, and calls ‘them’ to live life our way, the right way.
But we all too easily forget that those oft quoted words are preceded by Jesus’ ’Let anyone among you without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Jesus does pass judgement as the Pharisees ask but not on the woman, but on the motives of her accusers and on the jeering crowd. None of us can throw a stone, not at her at least.
This is a Gospel of grace. We are to go and sin no more, knowing that we are not condemned by Christ for who and what we are, for we are reminded by Christ in this holy season of Lent and beyond that we stand as one in the company of the sinful, unable to judge because of our own sinfulness
Lent, is a gift and a time to become aware of who we really are and how we act and react, of who and how we judge, and who ultimately judges us. It is not a season of inward looking self-condemnation, but a pilgrimage of self-discovery where by the grace and life of the Holy Spirit at work in us we sinners are enabled to love God, and in so doing, to love our neighbour, the stranger, the one who is other to us, who maybe frightens us, as we love ourselves.
And here's the audio!
And here's the audio!