It was a tense moment as the crowd gathered. The smell of anticipation filled the air, which reverberated with accusation and defence. The atmosphere was at tinder point, ready to explode when Jesus walked into the midst. Instead of reducing the tension, his appearance took it to a new level. Ever suspicious of his commitment to the ways of God, the baying mass found opportunity to test him. While a timid woman lay on the ground cowering, the baying masses began to articulate her plight: ‘Homewrecker!’ ‘Adultress!’ ‘Filthy whore!’ In the chaos the accusation was focussed towards Jesus: ‘This woman was caught in adultery. The law demands she be stoned. What do you say?’ The line was drawn in the sand for Jesus: ‘do you uphold the standards of God?’
It is a fair assessment to state that none of the accusers felt any sense of empathy with this woman: she was in no way seen to be like them, or they like her. That her name is lost to history leaves her faceless and nameless to future generations. How easy to demonise those who are different to us. By drawing a line and putting people on the other side we are released from seeing them as human with us, sharing a common struggle. It is a tactic used through all generations. Our lack of understanding destroys compassion.
Jesus stooped to draw in the sand, then stood to indicate a different line to the one they had drawn for him: ‘OK, if it’s true, let the one who is without sin throw the first stone,’ he said before stooping again to draw in the sand. Where the religious ones had drawn a line to emphasise their difference, Jesus drew one to invite them to see their similarity. Not one could bring them to kill something or someone who was like them.
We are continually being invited to see the difference in others, whether it be in the colour of their skin, the religious or political preferences people express, or in the country of birth or manner of arrival in this country. In our quest to be unique, we are effectively asked to deny significant parts of our humanity. It was a mark of Jesus that he saw good in people traditionally regarded as evil: tax collectors, gentiles, prostitutes… the list could go on. We do well to ask us what conditioned the attitude of Jesus towards those considered outcast.
Two different sets of people looking at the same situation, each inviting a different outcome: Jesus invited the accusers to see aspects of their own lives in the woman they were seeking to condemn, while they challenged Jesus to see her as something ‘other’.
How do you see?
August 21, 2005