Isaiah 43: 16-21; Phil 3: 8-14; John 8: 1-11
The readings from this point forward now will begin to take a downward spiral as Jesus takes on a more actively passive role in the story as we approach the passion. As he takes on this role, it’s also important to remember that he remains the central figure, even if the woman caught in adultery is thrown in the middle of him and the Pharisees. The real strife and battle is between Jesus and the Pharisees. The woman caught in adultery is simply a political pawn used by the Pharisees to try to win this battle with Jesus. It moves him to the place of passion, confronting the tragic nature of humanity, in it’s truest sense of embracing life’s suffering in connection with love and forgiveness, a God who is merciful and yet judge, the tension between law and compassion.
This is why Jesus continues to become such a threat to the Pharisees and the system as a whole. Even the fact that they call him teacher shows some semblance of arrogance on their part and then to bring a woman, who of course cannot defend herself, puts him and her in a situation that they just can’t win. Yet, he doesn’t fight fire with fire. He could very easily attack them for their own behavior or question how she was caught in adultery in the first place by them, but he doesn’t. He seems to ignore it all, or at least move to a more reflective moment by writing in the sand, yet, moves to a place where the woman can be identified by her truer identity over the sin in which she’s been labeled. It sets the stage for a nasty battle that will ensue these next weeks, but now with this woman caught in the middle of it all.
It’s good to point out, though, that just prior to this story that we hear is a continuation of the story of Nicodemus. He too is trying to make some sense out of who he really is, being that he is a Pharisee yet seems to be seeking something more. He questions Jesus on the nature of this argument as to what takes precedence, the law or the person. It comes down to what one sees. The Pharisees see a sin and violation of the law. Jesus, on the other hand, sees a woman, a human life, and something much more than sin. It will continue to peek the curiosity of Nicodemus as John’s Gospel unfolds. For now, though, he stands at a distance or in the darkness, while Jesus rises up as the voice of the tragic humanity, bringing some sense of reason but a human touch, love and mercy upon the woman and for all who encounter.
It is the tragedy of our humanity. From the prophet Isaiah today there is the message of hope after years of suffering. As they move beyond exile and the great despair and suffering, people Israel will be left with a choice as to how they move forward, if it is where they are being led. It’s a choice we are all given. They’re given a second chance now what do they do with it. They can return to their old ways and do it all over again or they can start anew. All too often we return to our past, he mentions, to what we are comfortable with. Yet, where did that so often lead Israel but to the desert, to their own emptiness. The prophet challenges them to choose a new path, the path in which they were destined, to new life. That doesn’t mean forgetting their past, but as Paul tells us, keeping our eye remained on the prize as to not fall once again to the place of great suffering and isolation. Isaiah becomes that voice for he people, the downtrodden, the women, the poor, the ones who have no voice and yet seek new life; held back by sin and yet desiring freedom.
The motive of the Pharisees is not the betterment of this woman nor is it for Jesus’ own growth. It’s to take down and to condemn. The reality is, this is still evident in our world today. It’s the reality of this city and nation. It’s the reality of our political system that finds ways to benefit itself over the common good of humanity. It doesn’t see people, it sees power, advancement, fear and manipulation, winning, and tearing down. As Jesus assumes this more actively passive role, he remains the voice of those who have none or who have had it stripped away from them. The scene sets the stage for the unfolding of the passion and an invitation for us to do the same and to embrace the tragic nature of our own lives. We want to judge, even ourselves, and yet, we’re created by and for love. We want to condemn, and yet, we’re created for acceptance. We want to hate, and yet we’re created for freedom and mercy. It’s who we are and yet, we remain blinded by our own pharisaical nature. What does Jesus see when he sees you and me? Better yet, what do you see when you see the other? This story is our story and we’re called to embrace ourselves in our entirety. Yet, to bend down, reflect, embrace and love that which has been condemned. Go and sin no more.