Each month we’ll be hearing from one of our Regional Ministers, to encourage us along the way as we continue empowering missional disciples in our communities across the West of England.
I don’t know if you’ve ever played the dinner party game ‘Which three guests (living or dead) would you ideally invite to a dinner party. I struggle to name two of the three (there’s so many to choose from), but I would definitely include Jesus. You see there’s lots of things that I’d like to ask him – one of which would be, ‘When you stood up to the religious leaders of your day, what did it feel like?’
I frequently am amazed at the incredible courage of Jesus. Maybe the classic example of this is found in John chapter 8 when the religious leaders brought to Jesus a woman who had been caught in adultery. It was obviously a trap. Earlier that week in the Temple courts Jesus boldly had been sharing who he was, and what he stood for. “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own ‘(7:16,17). He makes things even worse on the final day of the Feast, when he says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
The religious leaders were furious. And so, a trap is set – and they bring a poor terrified woman to Jesus. What will Jesus do? How can he possibly ‘square this circle?’ And importantly for us reflecting on this, what can we learn from Jesus in this tricky situation?
Firstly, we notice that he isn’t swayed by the agenda of the religious leaders. (I love this). Jesus bends down to the same level as the accused woman (and possibly looks her in the eye). It seems to me that here we see the compassionate heart of Jesus for a deeply vulnerable person caught in a desperate crisis (personally, morally, socially…) and Jesus is ‘with her’.
Secondly, Jesus responds to his accusers, the gathered crowd, and ultimately the distressed woman with truth. She had transgressed the Law of Moses – put bluntly she had sinned. Jesus doesn’t ignore or belittle this. He simply stands and turns to his accusers and the crowd, and with now proverbial words (in ‘old money’) says, ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone’. John in his gospel tells us that when Jesus became human and came among us – he came full of grace and truth. In this passage we see Jesus living out those very words and his response to the crowd and this troubled woman is full of grace and truth.
Finally, Jesus responds to the woman with compassion and forgiveness. All the other ‘sinners’; all the others who too have transgressed the law of Moses, have now walked away. Jesus, seeing that her accusers have all gone home, says to her, ‘neither do I condemn you… ‘Go now and leave your life of sin. What a wonderful example of the grace of God – as Jesus ‘forgives’ and points her towards a better way of living.
Let me invite you to reflect on John 8:1-11. Think about what you can learn from the way of Jesus: the way he treats the woman, his accusers and the crowd. How might this shape the way you engage with others? Is there anyone you know who may be personally, morally, or socially vulnerable just now? How might you be ‘with them’ and alongside them in their difficulty? How might you make a difference in their lives? On the other hand, is anyone trying to force their agenda on you? Are you struggling to know how to respond? Pray for strength to be like Jesus – to be strong and gracious so that you can respond with truth.
Maybe the prayer of St Francis might help each of us as we consider this challenge:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.