Re: John 7:59-8:11
…Wait for me! Sorry I’m a little behind.
I have been letting this passage sink in a little. While I have heard this story many times growing up, it seems to be settling a little differently for me, now. I notice I am struggling a bit with the phrasing, the implications, and Jesus’ response.
Like Chrystal and Marjorie, I noticed the lack of a guilty man in this story. The fact that the Jewish leaders had already disregarded the law by arresting the woman without the man annoyed me. According to Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22, the law required that both parties to adultery be stoned. It seems that the leaders were using the woman as a trap so they could trick Jesus: if he said the woman should not be stoned, they could accuse him of violating Moses’ law. If he promoted executing the woman, they could report him to the Romans, who did not permit the Jews to carry out their own executions.
Jesus, implicitly in his answer, upholds the legal penalty for adultery – stoning, and therefore could not be accused of being against the law. While he suggested that only a sinless person could cast stones, he implies that none are without sin. In biblical days, this response represented great compassion and forgiveness. Today, it sounds so different. Then, it sounded compassionate and non judgemental, today it sounds judgemental, with its implication that the woman has indeed sinned (a judgement), and that it is their job to punish her. This whole story got me to thinking about the ways the church has carried down these values of sin and punishment, judgement and control. Based on Biblical scripture, we buy into the fact that we are all sinners, that this woman was a sinner, (again, where is the man?) and the church’s role seems to be to keep us all in line. “Go and sin no more.” This implies the woman did sin, and is being ordered to mend her way. With stories like this, we are drawn away from the wonderful “Kindgom of God is within you” kind of message, and taught to hate ourselves and to think of ourselves as sinners, not worthy of God’s presence. What is the usefulness of this “sinners all’ message?
On the other hand, I also love the image, the suggestion, and the example of compassion. To feel compassion, we must turn away from our own focus on happiness to sense the true condition of others honestly facing their pain. This open-hearted empathy for the suffering of others includes the wish to see them free from suffering. Jesus thus exemplifies compassion.