5th Sunday of Lent 4-7-19
Readings: Isaiah 43: 16-21, Psalm 126:1-6, Philippians 3: 8-14, John 8:1-11
There are two pivotal stories of the Jewish people. The first is the Exodus from Egypt, the people being led from slavery to the Promised Land. They are literally led by God and fed by God on the journey. But most importantly, they must go thru some big changes; God must de-program them from slave mentality, they must leave their fear of Egypt behind, with all the physical and emotion abuse they had suffered.
Their sons had been slaughtered by the Egyptians, their daughters made concubines of the pharaohs, they were used to eating what the Egyptians gave them to eat, and worshiping the idols they were told to worship. They were accustomed to doing what they were told and to cower before their masters. The journey took 40 years not because of the distance, but because of the enormity of the task of freeing them from looking back at their old life, and preparing them for a new life ahead.
The second pivotal story of the Jewish people is the captivity in Babylon for 40 years, and their ultimate release to return to their homeland. The brutality of the war with Babylon, the total destruction of their temple, their homes, their cities, and their culture – all this left them deeply wounded psychologically. Again, they must begin all over, and rebuild their buildings, their infrastructure, their very way of life, and their worship of their God that they hardly remembered.
God took the initiative here. So God tells them, “don’t look back.” Don’t waste your time rehashing your troubles and clinging to what had seemingly become “the new normal” of captivity. He calls them to wake up, he says look and see what I’m doing, something new, it springs forth, can’t you see?! Even the animals can see it, but I do it for the people I formed, “That they might announce my praise.”
This story continues in our psalm, with the people’s response. “Restore our fortunes, O Lord. We need help as large as and powerful as of a mass of rushing water, like a torrent in the time of flood. We are weeping at the destruction of our land and of our hopes, but we will rebuild, and we will rejoice in what we accomplish with your help.”
We know the pivotal story of the Christian people. Paul writes of his losses in the decision to follow Christ. He lost everything he had. He lost his place and status as a learned Pharisee. He lost his home, and became a traveler. He certainly lost friends, he was physically attacked, he lost his wealth, and had to work as a common tent maker to buy food. Yet he always looks forward to what God is doing. Paul had discovered himself on the receiving end of a divine love that enabled him to live by the law of love. He says all the things he lost were “so much rubbish” in the light of his faith, in knowing Christ, and the “power of his resurrection.” Paul says that he lets go of and forgets what lies behind, but strains forward to what lies ahead, and continues pursuit of the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling to eternal life.
The strength of the faith of the Jews as they rebuilt their lives, the strength of Paul as he pursued God, sound to me like that sound rushing water makes in flood time. There is a power behind them, they see the new things that God is doing, a force which stronger than any opposition and better than anything they had lost.
Then we have Jesus and the woman. The woman was as battered and beaten down as the Jews had been in Egypt. Most likely she was a woman who had been widowed and had no family to support her. Prostitution was then and is now the last resort for women who are not loved, who have lost hope, and have lost any sense of value of themselves. Since this situation is clearly a set up by the Pharisees, there is no doubt in my mind that this poor woman was just hoping to have enough payment for her services to buy one meal that day. Clearly, she was just being used and shamed one more time by people who regarded themselves as superiors.
I remember when my last church was a brand new church, searching for worship space. They were renting a single basement room, it used to be a Sunday school room in a church that was dying, financially on it’s last legs, had spent all its reserves, was in an area where gun shots were heard and the copper gutters had been stolen off the church building. A beautiful old church nearby had been purchased by another independent Catholic group, and some discussions had started about moving there.
It was mentioned that a group of local prostitutes would sit on the church steps in the early evening, getting ready to go “to work.” Everyone at the meeting acted like they had not heard that piece of information, like it had nothing to do with them. Afterwards, I approached the speaker, and commented that there was a great opportunity to help those women. The speaker, sighed, and said quietly, “You’re the only who mentioned that.” Now and then, such women are still considered expendable.
But God was initiating something new that day for the woman in front of Jesus. The Pharisees had no authority to inflict capital punishment on this woman. That authority belonged to Rome. She was being used like a trap against Jesus, but she might become the laughing stock of Jerusalem by nightfall and, as a result, die of starvation anyway. He saved her with a single sentence, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
With those words, he reminds the Pharisees that they, like the woman, had no power in this situation, and thereby shames them with their own sins – the lies they have told and their pretense of authority they did not have, authority they had prostituted to Rome in a desperate attempt to salvage their social status. Once again, as you read the story, you hear that torrent of water, water of truth, life-giving water, and power…the power to rebuild, to change, for her to become whole again and shine with God’s light.
I hope you don’t drive down the road looking in the rearview mirror, but rather “staining to see what lies ahead. During Lent weep over the past, but in the celebration of Easter we return rejoicing. Both long ago and today, Jesus forgives the sinner without denying the sin. Listen, Believe, See something new, And Rejoice.