Words written on stones

I was in Grade 3 or 4 when my teacher told the class a Gospel story about a woman who was to be stoned.  The adultery bit went right over my head, as did the stone throwing. After all,  boys  were always throwing stones at something or someone, but the Jesus part interested me. Writing in the dirt was something frowned upon but fun to do when no adult was there to tut tut.  What might Jesus have been writing?  Years afterwards I wondered, where was the man?

A story like this is a bit like an onion – layers of meaning. That’s the mystery and wonder of the Gospel. It might have been written a long time ago from the first hand memories of those who knew Jesus, but its themes are timeless and as fresh as today.

Is it about sexual morality? For a couple of decades the Church has struggled with accusations of the sexual abuse of minors by ordained clergy. Older people find it hard to accept that the rules of sexual morality they have lived by are disregarded by the younger generation. Was Jesus as focused on sexual matters and their morality or otherwise, as some of us have been taught to believe?     

Is it about Jesus’ attitude to women? Jesus got on really well with women in a culture where men daily praised God they had not been born a woman. He gave them respect, he valued them for themselves. He wasn’t scared of women and maybe this worried the religious stone-throwers in much the same way as it worries the Church 2000 years on.

Is it about entrapment? The trap section of the word says it all. We trap mice for a variety of reasons and it’s not a pretty process, however it is done. The Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus, to trip him up, to lead him into a compromising situation that would turn out to be religiously illegal. As an added extra it would serve to blacken his good name with the crowd.

Is it about hypocrisy? It’s a hard word and we apply it to the scribes and Pharisees because they were so focused on the letter of the Law that they quite forgot about its spirit. It must be difficult to be in a position of authority and not feel hypocritical at times. Occasionally it is said of someone: “What you see is what you get”, but not many of us are that transparent. We’re more like an adolescent who is moody and difficult at home but an angel of light elsewhere, or a tough and unyielding boss who is a loving father. 

Is it about discrimination? Well, of course it is. Where was the other party to the adulterous act? And hasn’t discrimination become a twenty first century buzz word.  We’re legally bound not to discriminate on the grounds of age, gender, nationality, culture, religion – and probably lots of other things too. The words of Jesus come to mind” Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

Is it about forgiveness? There’s a gentleness in Jesus’ forgiveness of the woman contrasting with his steely response to the stone throwers slinking away as he doodled in the silky dust. He didn’t condone the harm that the adultery had undoubtedly done, but neither did he consider it an occasion for stone throwing. One can only imagine the gratitude of the woman. I wonder what her partner thought about it all?

And yes, it’s about violence towards women.

Judith               (judith@judithscully.com.au)

One Reply to “Words written on stones”

  1. Hi Judith
    Thank you for your thoughts on John 8. It is quite extraordinary that Jesus’ position on capital punishment aligns with today’s common view. 2000 years later.
    Did she do wrong or was she just a victim or like the ‘he’ a participant in a normal and necessary human behaviour?
    Are we today allowed to judge anyway? The Jewish race was/still is based on the mother not the father. So mothers had a particular responsibility to ensure its ‘purity’ in the eyes of its members. A big responsibility.
    Am I endorsing the capital punishment of ‘offending’ women in today’s world.-no I am not, but I think we should put the incident in the context of the time (God’s chosen people, fending off invaders for centuries) and be less condemnatory of the Pharisees – and certainly continue to be in generous praise of Jesus’ stand. We are all sinners female male and those unaligned with either classification.
    Thank you

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