The crowd dragged along a young woman. She was fighting and struggling, trying to escape what she was certain would be her ultimate fate. Her name was Sarah. She was a young girl, betrothed to her father's friend in payment for a debt, she was expected to be living with him soon, as his third wife. Despondent about this possibility a few months ago, Sarah began talking to a young man and he listened to her well, telling her he wished he had enough wealth to warrant marrying her himself. The two wandered from the city, to a meadow. And just as night fell, Sarah made a mistake. She knew it was wrong, but in her heart, she was so confused and afraid of the future, that she couldn't stop herself. The young man left her there in the field. He was gone by morning and Sarah had to lie to her parents so that she wouldn't be disowned, or worse.
That was the first time it happened. And even though she knew the consequences, since then, Sarah had found herself in that situation a few times. She could feel in her soul that she was hungering for real love, but she would give in to the substitute, if only to feel 'loved' for a short time. In the end, though, she was always left with loneliness and regret. This morning, as she woke up next to another young man, that feeling returned again and she tried to leave quietly. Sarah opened the door, and standing there, were two of the Pharisees, her father, and her husband. Without a second thought, they grabbed her, and the girl was dragged off to be stoned, as the law prescribed.
Gathering a crowd along the way, the scribes and Pharisees brought her to the new teacher and tossed her down in the middle of his group. Sarah was confused. They addressed him as 'teacher' so he must be important, but she could tell they were trying to 'catch' him as well. 'He'll probably just want to stone me like the rest of them.', she thought. But the stranger seemed oddly preoccupied. He just sat there drawing on the ground while the others laid out the charges against her. As she sat there in the dirt, listening to what they were saying, she started to feel used and worthless, as if she were expendable. She knew what she did was wrong, and that it was a mistake, but was she really the human garbage that they were describing?
When they finished, the teacher stopped writing on the ground and stood up. His eyes caught hers for a moment and she somehow felt better. He was not looking at her as the others did. He was not seeing just an adulteress, just a sinner. It was as if he could see her heart and he understood what she was really searching for in these trysts. Just from this glance, Sarah felt that he could see her value as a creation of God. And then he spoke:
Looking out at these power-brokers from the Holy City, the teacher straightened up and confidently, but not arrogantly, spoke one simple line, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.", he said. Then he bent down and started to draw in the dirt again.
Sarah didn't know what to think, She braced herself for the first stone to be hurled, and then the onslaught that would follow. But it never came. One by one, starting with some of the most powerful men, they started to drop their stones and walk away. Soon it was just her and the teacher. He straightened up again, looked at her and said, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
Sarah was dumbfounded. "No one, sir." she replied.
Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore."
He reached out to help her up and Sarah walked away. Having at last been seen with love and not lust, and treated with compassion and not used, she felt like she had a fresh start. She felt like she could value herself as a child of God. Even if others did not see her this way, Sarah now had that perception from inside, and it had the power to change her life forever. Whether she knew it or not, she had been saved by the only one in the gathering that day who could have truly condemned her.
Obviously, we don't know the name of the 'woman caught in adultery' in the gospel story. And we don't know what the circumstances of her crime were, or how she was caught. But thinking of this narrative from her perspective (with a modest amount of poetic license) makes me think of women in our society today. We all know someone who has made that mistake and woken up with that regret.
Some of us know women who have that regret forced upon them. Let's face it, in Jesus' time it is completely possible that the 'woman caught in adultery' was raped and was about to be stoned to death for it. How many times do we hear of a trial where the rapist's past crimes, no matter how relevant, cannot be mentioned in court, but the victim's entire history can be dredged up and used by the defense as if to say, "well, she didn't say no to these guys, so obviously her activity with my client was consensual."? The victim is still paying the price, two thousand years later.
Either of these situations can lead to a woman making that same mistake over and over, convincing herself that this time, she is the one in control. In those cases, though she may be 'letting' it happen, how 'in control' is she if that choice is based on fear, a feeling of inadequacy or a sense of obligation? I remember convincing myself that the dancers at the strip club had all the control because they were the ones taking our money, and that women involved in pornography were involved in it by choice. It was nothing more than my attempt to justify something I was doing for my own gratification which, I knew in my heart, was damaging to women. But I kept on doing it out of my own selfishness. All of us have done it.
In the story of the adulteress, there are two reactions to her sin. There is the crowd, standing there, stones in hand, waiting to persecute, damage and destroy her for their own purposes and satisfaction and there is the teacher who sits and shows no interest in the hearsay and gossip about her. He stands up and tells us that only the one who is perfect can condemn her....and then, even though he could, he doesn't do it. Jesus sends her on her way and tells her to "Go forth, and sin no more."
This idea begs the question: When it comes to how the world is treating women, which kind of man am I? I'm not sure I speak for all of us but in speaking for me, I know I struggle with the tendency toward stone-throwing. I'm sure that I am not the only one with this tendency and in the world today with its World Wide Web of anonymity and detachment, the stone-throwers are many times the ones perpetuating the sin. What do you think the chances are that some of the men taking aim at the adulteress, shall we say, knew her very well? I know the odds are very good that many of those men had taken part in the same activity, even if not with her.
We are entering a glorious time of the Church year. Advent is coming. We are 'preparing the way' for the celebration of when The Word became flesh and walked among us. It is an exciting time, but also a good time to take an honest look in the mirror and see if Jesus is looking back at us with compassion, or if we duck down quick so as not to be hit by the stone-thrower on the other side of the glass. In preparing the way, we can take the opportunity to clean house and get rid of some of those habits about which we are fooling ourselves. Take a look at your perception of women and how you treat the women in your life. Are you involved at all with pornography? When you spend a guys night out, does it include a trip to the strip club? Are you respectful of your wife, or does she catch you with a wandering eye? Would you lay your life down for her? And I don't mean dying for her, I mean LIVING for her?
In Ephesians 5:25, St. Paul tells us that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church:
" Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her."
For the past four weeks, I have been fasting every Wednesday, eating only bread and water. I got the idea from a friend of mine on Facebook who posted a link to e5men. The website explains it pretty well, but basically it is a group of men who fast for their wives the first Wednesday of every month. It is a way of making a physical sacrifice for our wives in imitation of Christ's sacrifice for the church. I decided to fast every Wednesday, the first Wednesday is for my wife, the second and third are for my two daughters, and the fourth is, in a way, as a penance for the perception and treatment of women that I used to perpetuate. In a way, it is very appropriate. Bread and water is associated with prisoners, and behaviors that objectify, use and abuse women not only imprison them, but also imprison men to their own desires.
Women have spent enough time trying to lift us up only to have us leer at them like adolescent walking hormones. It's time for us to be MEN. It's time for us to lift them up. I encourage any man to take this challenge and join me in this fast. Try it just for Advent, as a way to focus and clean house.
Remember, we are getting ready to celebrate the event by which the Savior came to us through a woman who, had her husband not been just, compassionate, and trusting of the Lord, could have been stoned to death as well.