Reflection for Sunday – April 3, 2022
Readings: Isaiah 43: 16-21; Philippians 3: 8-14; John 8: 1-11
Preacher: Margot VanEtten
This Gospel story tells us something marvelous about God. Something we all need to hear, especially now—each of us individually and all of us together as a community.
This is more than just another tale of Jesus vs. the Pharisees: today brings things to a whole new level. In this Gospel, Jesus doesn’t argue with them. He does not excoriate them for their hardheartedness.
He does something he has never done in any encounter.
He pointedly disregards them.
This is more than not responding, beyond ignoring: he refuses to engage at all. He doesn’t even look at them. As if there were no group of eager men buzzing around him with their demand for judgment, their mean and callous trap—he writes in the sand.
Much ink has been spilled speculating what Jesus wrote in that sand, but the Gospel writer has made a clear choice not to tell us. His disciples would have seen what he wrote, but the words are left out here. This should move our attention to the specific act itself. What is Jesus doing? He actively refuses to discuss, to argue—to engage in any way with their cruel game.
To respond, to discuss the woman at all would be to play the same callous game of treating her as an object rather than to see her as a person. To the Pharisees, she is a handy item to bait their trap, no more important in herself than a piece of cheese used to bait a mousetrap. There’s not even a genuine indignation at sin here, no thirst for justice: they grabbed the woman but let the man go. Deuteronomic law specifically states that both the man and the woman involved in adultery should be put to death. Sincere horror at sin would have brought them both in for justice. Knowing Jesus’ treatment of women, they are trying to either make him openly flout the law or deny his own calls for love, compassion and forgiveness. This woman is the perfect tool.
Jesus utterly refuses to play the game. Instead, he drops a bomb. “Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone”.
Rocks drop. Feet shuffle. The trap is turned: the accusers become the ones who are shamed.
Now Jesus is free to do the only thing he is interested in doing: He looks at her. He speaks directly to her. He frees her from shame, restores her to dignity and gives her a new beginning, a new chance.
God is not interested in entering into the judgment game, so often fueled by ego with its fear, its hatred of self and other. God does not ever view any living soul as an object. God is only interested in seeing, speaking to the person. To me. To you. To the woman frozen in fear and shame left standing before him on the stone pavement of the Temple.
Jesus does not condemn her. He does not even demand expressions of repentance. He sets her free—and sets the possibility of putting the sin behind her and starting anew.
Important message for today: We can depend utterly on God. To see us—to insist on seeing us. In God’s eyes our sins and weaknesses never determine who we are. Neither do the accusers—outside of us or within our own psyche—determine who we are. And nothing, no one, can make us an object to be dismissed. God always beholds us an infinitely beloved daughter or son. We are seen, we are cherished, we are upheld and we are free.
Perhaps our challenge for the rest of Lent is to so fully absorb and learn to rest in this immensity of love that we are free to extend the same grace to ourselves and to the other people around us, and to all the world. We don’t have to throw stones at anyone—not even ourselves. We are free to drop them.