Scripture Reading for Feb. 27, 2011

John 8: 3-11

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.    When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.   Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’  She said, ‘No one, sir.’  And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’

Working Sermon Title:  A No Win Situation

The text creates some problems because John 7:37 to 8:12 is omitted in some manuscripts. This was discovered in the 16th century when Protestant and Catholic scholars were working to recover the most correct Greek tests of the New Testament rather than relying on the Latin Vulgate. They noticed that a number of early manuscripts lacked this section or it was located later in the book. While this is very interesting I am operating on the presupposition that it seems congruent with Jesus’ life and teachings and likely was a piece of oral tradition that was circulating and eventually incorporated into some manuscripts. Either way, it’s a great story!

Jesus is presented with a question designed to trap him. Should we stone her as ordered by the Law of Moses? If Jesus says “no”-he would be contradicting the Mosaic code. If Jesus says “yes”- he might have been inciting a mob action that would have been in conflict with Roman jurisdiction for capital crimes. Since Jesus was known to associate openly with prostitutes, this created quite a dilemma. The text does not may clear whether he might have known the woman (and I don’t mean in the biblical sense).

Jesus circumvents the dilemma by inviting the accusers to comply with the law BUT only if they can do so without guilt.

The questions I invite you to consider are these:

1.  If we all sin, then based on this passage we are unfit to judge. If we are not to judge, how do we live? How do we counter evil? How do we name evil?

2.  Twice, Jesus bends down and writes something in the dirt with his finger. What do you think he wrote? Why?

3.  And finally, Jesus asks “Does no one condemn you?…”Neither will I condemn you. Sin no more.”  What does it mean to be free of condemnation? 

Read Paula’s sermon, delivered on Feb. 27, entitled “A No Win Situation.” 

Rev. Dr. Paula Northwood biography

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9 Responses to Scripture Reading for Feb. 27, 2011

  1. Paula Northwood says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments! They have been very helpful as I continue work on this sermon.

  2. Zoe Kuester says:

    I love the image of Jesus stooping down to write in the sand. What did he write? I don’t know, but for me the content of his sketching is less important than the action itself.

    What I see in that gesture is a moment of grace and breath, a moment of suspended time that allowed him to center his thoughts and consider his next actions. It’s a beautiful reminder for me to be measured in my responses and to make sure I ground myself before I speak in the heat of a conflict.

  3. Lynn Nelson says:

    This passage reminded me of the sermon Jim gave today. I think we need to discern right and wrong by making judgments, but recognize that compassion will allow us to better understand and address those we believe have done us wrong.

  4. Jane Thompson says:

    How deeply some of us are drawn to liking rules & following the “rules”. At the same time, we rather want to separate ourselves from judgment and certainly, condemnation. The beauty of this scripture is that it affords us a look at checking our moral compass, responding with thoughtful judgments, and acting in response with neither arrogance nor condemnation.

    It beautifully illustrates our challenge to navigate through ambiguity and times when the rules offer opportunities for discernment and self examination, conviction and compassion.

  5. It seems each of us focuses on something different about this story.
    To me, it is a message of following one’s conscience and choosing not to be a hypocrite (def: a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion). I see the story as less about the woman and more about the impact of Jesus words on those gathered.

  6. Kristine Mortensen says:

    Q1. This is a very big question. It’s one of those “aha” questions that immediately makes clear there is far more to the meaning of the text than one might think at first reading. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But does that exempt us from responsibility for countering wrongdoing? Of speaking truth to power? It is easy to understand that we should not rush to judge those of ordinary circumstances, like (presumably) the woman in this story. But what about those we hold high? Is there a double standard?
    Q3. I like the conclusion of the story. Jesus acknowledges the woman’s transgression without condemming or disrespecting her, and encourages her to choose of her own volition to do better hence forth. It is a gracious and empowering lesson.

  7. John Bennett says:

    What a lovely text this is. Like so many of our stories attributed to Jesus, it makes intelligent distinctions. Question #1 makes me think about the distinction between judgment and condemnation. The deadly act of stoning, still used in 2011, condemns/shames the victim forever, but Jesus finds a way to offer a merciful judgment instead of an eternal condemnation. Question #2 distinguishes between a law written in stone and carried down from the mountain on high versus an unknown curiosity traced in the dirt. Jesus act draws me into the scene, eagerly peering over His shoulder to envision truth. #3 follows from the first two, I think. I am reminded of a healthy guideline for parents: criticize the act, don’t condemn the child. We need judges in a civil society, judges free of vengeance and full of mercy…and discipline.

  8. Diane Mountford says:

    When I was reading the passage it was #2 that jumped out at me … I asked myself, “What did he write?”

    There’s a lovely contrast between the law written in stone and words traced by a finger in dust. A reminder that rules should remain mutable in the face of change, and that judgement should be meted out with love, rather than stricture.

    So if I had to take a guess at what he wrote, I’d say it was the law that had been cited by the scribes and pharisees. So that as they stood contemplating their own sins, the breeze would come and blow the law of condemnation literally off the face of the earth.

  9. Jan Rabbers says:

    No. 3 intrigues me because it brings up more questions. If Jesus is indeed the son/body/voice of God, this is pretty big. It would remind me I am truly FREE of condemnation throughout my lifetime – and loved with God’s everlasting, abiding love. If Jesus is a man borne of us, it would mean I’ve been given that fleeting, beautiful, poignant moment of grace of which we humans are capable of exhibiting to one another. . . the second chance; the opportunity for renewal; the human touch of support to remind us we can make different choices.

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