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)

A mother and her daughter

This is number 3 in a series of reflections about Gospel women, many of them un-named, and an appreciation of feminine imagery and experiences that are prominent in many of the stories Jesus told. 

Jesus grew up in a culture where the adult Jewish male thanked God each day in prayer “that thou hast not made me a gentile, nor a woman, nor an ignorant man”. Then he met a woman who ticked two of the three no-goes. Not only was she a woman, hardly worthy of being known by name, but she was Greek by birth, a Canaanite by religion, living in a seaside town in a part of the world we know as Lebanon.

It begins as a mother and daughter story. The daughter suffered from some kind of disability, the kind that at the time was described as being ‘tormented by a devil’. The mother, like mothers the world over, then and now, was frantic that her daughter was be able to live a normal, healthy life the same as other girls her age.  In a careful reading of Matthew 15: 21-28, this mum comes across as a risk-taker, strong enough to cope with rejection and hostility, a smart talker, witty, and very determined.

In the way news travels through a small town, she’d heard rumours about a visiting Jewish preacher, someone who had healing powers. She tailed him through the town, making a nuisance of herself and annoying his already disgruntled little band of followers who were looking for a bit of R and R.  Jesus ignored her.

Even though the woman was careful to address Jesus as “Lord”, and even knelt before him to make her plea for mercy, Jesus gave her the silent treatment.

As an Israelite male Jesus was not obliged to even recognise this pagan woman. The disciples, used to his usual counter-cultural approach to other women, Jewish women, and  fed-up with this persistently annoying woman, suggested he give her what she wanted anyway.  

Instead he insults her, referring to her as a dog, and offense in every language, even today. And she retaliates. “Ah yes, Lord. But even little dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table. “

Something happened then, something deep in Jesus moved, changed. “Woman, you have great faith. Let your desire be granted.” It was a turning point in Jesus’ life, a growth marker. In an instant his ministry moved beyond Judaism and encompassed the whole world.  He would never forget that it was a pagan woman’s faith that called him to move into a place where he saw his life and the will of his Father from a totally different aspect.

That gutsy Canaanite woman who had humiliated herself for love of her daughter, would never have known that her words and her faith would echo down through the ages her story giving counyless women inspiration and strength to follow their God-given instincts.  Now, more than ever, women like her are questioning and even breaking religious and cultural taboos that prefer them to walk in the shadow of an authoritarian male leadership.

Through every avenue available in a supremely audio-visual world, women need to talk persistently, calmly, and sometimes passionately, about the things in Christianity that challenge and disturb them. Hopefully their faith will shatter a few more taboos.

Judith   ( judith@judithscullu.com.au)

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