Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Gospel Reflection: John 8:2-11

Hello, readers.

It's been almost a year since I wrote last, and that's because my life has been a whirlwind, but I hope you will welcome my words once more. As things turn out, my hopes have come to a measure of fruition. I will, in two weeks time, be beginning my education at Emmanuel Bible College in Kitchener, Ontario. God's calling in my life has pointed me towards a pastoral ministry and I have answered his call. May I be a humble and eager student from this day on, even beyond the years of college. And may God speak to me and through me for his glory, not mine.

For my first entry, I want to share a reflection I wrote on the story of the adulterous woman in the Gospel of John. An online survey of the New Testament which I've been pursuing through Distance Education has called for a Gospel Narrative Reflection paper, and I goofed. I was supposed to think of a story involving Jesus in one of the Gospels and then insert myself into the scene and experience the moment. THEN I was supposed to write 1,000 words about my experience with Jesus. However, my first attempt was to write the experience as it happened, which was not the assignment. So I had to start over. Nonetheless, it is a piece of writing that some prayer and thought and time went into and I believe it to be worth sharing, but that will be between you, dear reader, and God.

“Stone her!” they cry.

“God’s wrath be on the harlot!”

“Feed her filthy carcass to the dogs!”

I find myself hollering and jeering along with them, though truly I feel pity for the wretched wife of that drunken carpenter Moshe. I know what will soon befall her, and what they’ll think of me if I show the slightest hint of pause. She struggles against our grasp, trying desperately to escape, for she too knows the Law, and what must now transpire cannot but frighten the poor woman. Blood will be spilled this day.

I and my companions shove the woman accused of adultery into the center of the court gathered in the temple. The assembled throng all bend down and begin picking up an assortment of stones from the ground, with obvious intent. The accused woman sobs, and then begins to shake with fear. “Have mercy!” she cries, falling to her knees on the floor of the temple court. But there is no mercy, only judgment on the faces of the Pharisees, only a hateful wrath... A chill runs down my spine.

There is one, however, who does not cheer, and who does not shriek and tear his clothes at the sin of this whore. It is that rabbi Jesus of Nazareth. What is it with him that he behaves so strangely?

And what is to become of the woman’s lover? Should we not have seized him as well? Does not the Law command us to convict the man along with the woman in the case of adultery? (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22, NIV) I know not where this is going, but something here seems odd, as if perhaps the woman’s disobedience of the commands of God is not the only issue before the court. I cannot let the Pharisees see my suspicion.

Jesus looks up, and his gaze suddenly meets mine. His mouth tightens a little. Yet his eyes soften. What does he see? What does he know? I cannot look into those eyes any longer. They are tugging on my very soul.

The Pharisees are speaking to Jesus now. “Teacher,” they say, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

Such a question to ask of a rabbi! What are the teachers thinking? Will Jesus presume to contradict the commands of God? Or worse, presume to have the very authority of Almighty Yahweh at his disposal? Only a madman would dare do that! Or a devil! Or God himself...

But now Jesus has simply walked into the circle and has squatted down. What is that he is doing? Writing in the dust? Is this man insane? The Pharisee has asked him a question! Has he no dignity? He looks up briefly to catch my stare again. There is a depth in those eyes. A …timelessness. His knowing gaze pierces me and again I must turn away. Who is this man?

The teachers grow impatient. They question Jesus. “Well, is the woman guilty of a mortal sin or not? Shall we stone her or not? The will of God is clear, is it not? Yet we wait for your answer, Rabbi!” I can feel the contempt oozing from their lips. I fear I may have been mistaken in being part of this endeavour. Despite her sin, this woman is about to die for a horrible reason. I am feeling sick to my stomach.

Suddenly I discern the purpose of Jesus’ writings. He is writing pieces of the Law on the temple floor! Pieces which are linked to proceedings such as this, and more! His grasp of the Law of God is impressive. Such knowledge and wisdom in such a young man! Who is he? Why did he come here?

Jesus sighs and straightens up. He looks at the woman. Is that compassion on his face? He even smiles slightly. I am ashamed at first to be in the same room with such a man. He cannot seriously believe this behaviour is acceptable in the court of the temple. I can feel the hatred of the Pharisees. They are trying to trap Jesus! Trying to manoeuvre him into presuming authority over the Law of God. That they need to resort to such tactics shames me too, for being associated with them. So much tension in this place; it is almost visible in the air. Perhaps this wretched woman will not be the only one to die today. That is a shame. As antagonistic and disrespectful as he has been, I have never seen anyone with such knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and such love for the people. Surely this man does not deserve death, for if he does, we all do.

Jesus speaks. “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” he says calmly. Now I know he is insane! No one has spoken to the teachers of the synagogue in such a way and lived to tell of it! I wish I could crawl away somewhere and hide. I look at the Pharisees and their faces hang agape with poorly concealed rage and astonishment. I suddenly notice that I too am awestruck by the audacity of the Nazarene, and that my jaw hangs slack. I try quickly to compose myself before the teachers see, but Jesus is looking at me again, and I can hide nothing. Am I so captivated by a lunatic? Or has a devil taken such a firm hold upon me that I can no longer control my senses, let alone my body? Nonetheless, I must drop my stone, for I cannot bring myself to throw it.

But lo, I am not the only one, for as my own rock falls to the ground, so I hear others thudding as they tumble from the other would-be murderers’ hands. This is incredible! That I have lived to see such a thing with my own eyes is nothing short of miraculous! That Jesus is not dead but alive and in control of this unbelievable scene is sheer madness, yet somehow it is the way it must be! Slowly, the oldest of us begin to walk away, their stones lying on the floor, uncast and forgotten. I cannot move, for I am filled with a foreign emotion that I’ve not felt in a very long time, perhaps not since I was a boy. What is this? Could it be...hope? Joy? How long since I felt these things? Too long…

More people are walking off now, leaving a trail of rocks, and the youngest are now beginning to follow them, their expressions revealing puzzlement. I know why. They’ve never yet been taught this. Mercy for sinners is not something they can yet grasp. Much of the older generation still knows it not. Yet here it is. Mercy. Who is this Nazarene, who by his rebellious words is able to shame the Pharisees and extend the mercy that only God can offer to a sinful, adulterous woman? As I, too, walk outside with the crowd, I wonder in amazement at the redemption I have witnessed. I pause at the door, trying to hear the words which follow. I can hear Jesus speaking again. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

She speaks softly, but I can still hear her clearly. “No one, sir,” she says.

The voice of Jesus is steady and resonant, filled with an authority not granted by men. It is powerful and merciful and loving and joyful all at once. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declares. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

On hearing this, I turn back. I must speak with him. I must ask him a question. I believe I have experienced a revelation from God, and all at once I am hopeful and fearful and giddy with new possibilities and I am not sure what else I am feeling but I know something absolutely wonderful is occurring inside of me. I must talk to Jesus!

I burst back into the court. The woman is leaving. She looks me in the eye on the way past and I see tears in her eyes, yet a large and toothy smile adorns her painted face. I cannot say for certain, but there is little doubt this adulteress has had a similar realization to the one I have just had, the one all of the others missed as they shuffled out the door, mumbling and shaking their heads. She turns one last time to look upon Jesus as she goes back to her daily life, one that I have no trouble saying is about to undergo a most radical change. I think a certain lover will be very disappointed indeed. Perhaps he too should speak with this rabbi before the Pharisees catch up to him for his vile acts. Jesus looks up at her and smiles, and she hurries out the door. I stand for a moment while he surveys me, gazing into his eyes. This man is not like any other I have ever known, and I must find out!

I approach him, my head down, and my eyes cast to the floor to escape his knowing gaze. He smiles, slightly but warmly and says, “Speak, son. You have a question for me.”

I say, “Teacher, is it you? Are you he? Are you the Messiah? The Christ? The anointed one promised to us?”

Very simply, he puts a hand on my shoulder. His eyes twinkle with a deep-set joy that I cannot fathom. He grins widely and replies, “Go now, and leave your life of sin.” Then he turns and walks out.

I can do naught but raise my hands to the Lord our God and weep, for I have no words left. He has come! In the silence of the now empty temple court I know that I will always remember this day. I will remember and tell my children, and they their children, about the day that I met our God in the flesh, and that on that day he forgave my sins, forever.

See you again soon.


Hilda Lansbergen said...

Wow! Great story. I never thought to put myself in Jesus's time to experience the things I would feel if I were there (and also I am no writer, I love to read!).

Anonymous said...

Well written Stuart! I can feel many emotions running through me after reading this. Such a simple truth but so easily forgotten.


Anonymous said...

welcome back Stu ~ i look forward to many more GREAT posts from you!