The great African American poet, writer and scholar, James Baldwin once observed: “Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” If we consider that ignorance is not only the lack of knowledge; but the lack of compassion, love, tolerance, and humanity, we can understand exactly what Baldwin meant by his thought. Ignorance, in this context, is the desire to prevent justice. Justice is the act of righting the wrongs committed by those in power, who use ignorance, as a partner in their crimes.
Tragically, we are now living in a country where power and ignorance have joined forces, in an attempt to destroy anything or anybody which impedes the current agenda of intolerance, hatred, and greed.
Curiously, one of the ways in which a corrupt power decides to grab and keep control is to use the tool of humiliation and shame to do so. Consider our current state of affairs: the humiliation of the press, shaming dissenting voices and protesters, and intimidating those who offer differing opinions. These citizens are fodder for an administration, who continuously and viciously attempts to “take them down” through the use of humiliation and shaming. Name calling, lying, shaming (on TV and media) are all the order of the day. Women are especially at risk and a favorite target. The tool of shaming (body shaming, slut shaming & bullying) are used on the regular to “stone” women in the press and through social media, so we will be silent and resign ourselves to watch the antics of an administration bent on ridding themselves of anyone who gets in their way.
DEFINITION: “Humus” meaning dirt or ground (i.e., adamah in Hebrew) is the root connected to the words “humanity” and “humiliation.” Humiliation, meaning “to reduce to a lower/lowest position,” and is the ultimate form of injustice. The actor seeks to take another’s humanity by reducing the person to the lowest level (dirt or ground). In Hebrew: adamah = ground/ adam= human
Social justice, as demonstrated in our narrative by Jesus, is about the healing of emotional and physical woundedness caused, in part, by humiliation and shaming. Injustice is about reducing or taking one’s humanity. In our story, the “toxic masculinity” demonstrated by the scribes and Pharisees, who seek to take a woman’s humanity, is no different than a president who brags about grabbing p _ _ sy, or the lyrics of so-called hip-hop artists whose soundtracks denigrate, objectify, and humiliate women. While our society has made some progress (“You’ve come a long way, baby!”) in pushing back the destructive forces of misogyny and sexism, “Baby, we still got a long way to go!”
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The Gospel According to John, Chapter 8: 1-11 (NRSV)
Then each of them went home while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and 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 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.”
In chapter 7 of John, it is abundantly clear that Jesus has become a serious irritant to the Pharisees and scribes (the elite of Israel). The ruling power of Israel want desperately to rid themselves of Jesus; this social justice prophet who is preaching and demonstrating the Nazarene Manifesto everywhere he goes: (Luke 4: 18). After still another confrontation with the ruling class, the enemies of Jesus decide to set another trap, so they find a woman whose timing is unfortunate. While the narrative largely concerns this woman, whose life and reputation are in peril, the trap is really set for Jesus. The woman is only bait for the snare set for Jesus.
Not realizing who they are dealing with, the Pharisees and scribes construct a conundrum for the Messiah. If Jesus denies the Mosaic law, by supporting the woman in her adultery, he will commit blasphemy (the ultimate sin before God). If Jesus supports the Mosaic law and agrees to the stoning, Jesus knowingly breaks the law of the state (Roman law); whereby, no Jew is willingly permitted to take a life, unless given permission by Roman authority. But, they do not know who they are dealing with, and Jesus comes out of the box with a holy conundrum that trumps them all. Because he cares nothing for them, and stands for justice to save a woman who they intend to “stoned” by their arrogance, hate, and lust of power; Jesus sidesteps their trap by writing something on the ground, which the writer of John decides not to reveal.
Yet, most importantly, Jesus throws the stone back at the men in the crowd, who would use the Mosaic law against the woman (the adulteress); but, ignore the man who was caught in adultery with her. This display of toxic masculinity, which shames the woman for breaking the seventh commandment and insists that she is stoned (Leviticus 20:10), conveniently omits the most important detail of the law: both offenders are to be stoned. So, we must ask these keepers of the law: “Where is the adulterer -where is the man?”
Jesus, the Messiah, does one better – he asks the crowd to do what they came to do; but only, if they are without sin. The complexity of his challenge to the crowd, not only befuddles and convicts them; but, it does the same to us. What an indictment! What a conviction! What a divine observation of human behavior! The attempt to humiliate and stone this woman is completely thwarted, as Jesus presents the implied question to the crowd (and to us): “What about you and your own sin?”
In an ironic twist, the crowd (the elders, Pharisees, & scribes) is filled with shame by the invitation of Jesus to throw the first stone. Stunned by his brilliance and his writings on the ground, we imagine them sliding away, their heads bowed in shame, with only a pile of stones left, as the evidence of their failure to trap Jesus or convict the woman. Standing with the personification of peace (shalom) and justice, the woman looks around to find no one but Jesus by her side.
While Jesus never excuses or condones this woman’s actions, for she is guilty, as we are; Jesus reminds her, by his question (“Has no one condemned you?”)of her change in station. There is no condemnation in the salvation which He offers her and us. The crowd (and we) have no right to judge, for we are all guilty; however, neither does she (or we) have the right to carry shame and condemnation into our futures. The past is forgiven. Jesus reminds her/us of rebirth (“Go your way, and from now on do not sin again”.) She/we are new creatures in Christ Jesus. We are redeemed. We are restored. We can begin again. We can start afresh. We can write a new story. Salvation, grace, forgiveness, and new mercies are ours – it’s a brand new day! To God be the Glory!
Questions for our consideration:
Scholars have found this story was added to the ancient manuscript of the Johannine gospel after its original close. Regardless of whether this story is original to the gospel or not, it is a favorite preaching text of the church, and a serious study in human behavior.
As Jesus writes on the ground twice, what do you think he writes that stops the crowd in their tracks?
Women are also guilty of shaming each other. What are some of the ways we participate in the shaming of other women?
Do you find this text convicting? If so, why?
How can you prevent, or assist others, in stopping the “shame tapes,” that oftentimes play in our heads?
“Your body is a piece of the universe you have been given.”- Geneen Roth
“Shame says that because I am flawed, I am unacceptable. Grace says that though I am flawed, I am cherished.” – Michelle Graham
“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” – Dr. Brene Brown
“A thief comes to steal and kill and destroy; but, I came to give life – life in all its fullness.” (John 10: 10)
“Shame is a thief and a liar.” Minister Angie Garrett
OUR SENDING PRAYER
We come before You, as your daughters, knowing there is nowhere to turn but to You. We know you will meet us where we are, and as we are, and we bless You for this. Teach us the lessons of true discipleship. Let us not seek shame; but instead rejoice in the truth and Your forgiveness of our past. Help us not to judge others; but instead treat our neighbor with compassion. Assist us, Oh Lord, in this and in building Your kingdom. We bless Your name and give You the glory and honor which Your name is due. In the name of our brother and guide, Jesus we pray. Amen!
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