In the beginning of the eighth chapter of John we find Jesus in the middle of a scuffle. There is a woman thrown at the feet of Jesus. The Pharisees in all of their patriarchal glory have aggressively brought this woman in and said that they found her in the very act of adultery. The law says that the woman should be stoned to death and the Pharisees have the rocks at ready. Jesus is asked a pertinent question, “What should we do?” Jesus places his body between the woman and the Pharisees, writes in the dirt, and declares, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
This is the story. Why does it matter? It matters because it defies our culture in three primary ways.
Jesus is a defender and lover of women. We are witnessing the acts of someone that was determined to destroy patriarchy and sexism. It seems that the message of Jesus with regard to women has been perverted ever since. Let me make something very clear. We are following the Jesus who gets down in the dirt with women and places Jesus’ body between the woman and the death of patriarchy. Are we willing to lay our lives on the line to secure the livelihoods and rights of women? If we want to follow love and if we want to be who God has called us to be then we need to get down in the dirt with our sisters and secure their rights. We need to wake up and end the consistent blind participation in the patriarchy and oppression. We have got to put down our stones.
“Let the one without sin cast the first stone,” are the words that Jesus speaks to directly challenge the Pharisees’ assumed ability to judge. This morning we are wrestling with the conflict in Syria. Those who desire to go to war stand there holding their rocks or should I say missiles. There is no question that Bashar al-Assad is guilty of using chemical weapons in Syria…but those who think that the way to teach him not to use these weapons by shooting missiles at him are closely akin to those who think that they can teach a child not to hit by hitting them. We have not even arrived yet at the fact that the United States is not without its faults and responsibilities for grave injustices. “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” The message of Jesus defies our rush toward war and not toward peace. Life matters. Peace matters. “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.”
In looking at the totality of our lives, there is a grave danger in always assuming we are the victim without considering ways in which we have been the perpetrator. We always want to rush to place our self in the space of the adulterous woman. We imagine the Pharisees standing over us and about to throw their stones at us. We are always quick to talk about the evils that have been perpetrated against us…but rarely are we willing to admit to ourselves let alone others that we have perpetrated tremendous evils against others. The primary sign of maturity is to come to terms with the fact that we will all be the adulterous woman and the Pharisees in our lives. We will all be victims and violators. Empathy for both parties within and without can help us find a peace and love capable of sustaining us.
It takes courage to defend women in a world that loves patriarchy. It takes courage to not fire missiles in a world that loves war. It takes courage to dig deep within and have empathy for the victim and perpetrator within and without in a world that demands vengeance. It takes courage to love. It actually takes emulating the example of Jesus and laying down your life in the dirt with the woman to protect both her and the Pharisees against the violence of hate.