Friday, May 27, 2011

Sticks and Stones

Preface:  Jesus' reaction to the woman caught in the act of adultery may seem surprising to some.  It certainly was in stark contrast to the actions of the religious leaders of the day who exhibited utter disregard for her as a person.  They had actually set her up in an attempt to theologically trick Jesus and then proceeded to publicly incriminate her.  We don't know why or how she fell victim to this hypocritical plot.  But remember, women of 1st century Jewish society had no rights. She was the possession of her husband in an arranged marriage, for better or for worse.  Her opinion did not matter.  She had no power, no voice even if she found herself in an abusive situation.  Jesus knew her heart and he also knew what was in the hearts of her accusers.

Sticks and stones may break bones, but it turns out names can really hurt too.

She tells her story:

Just before dawn, the door to our secret hiding place burst open and slammed against the wall.  Scribes and Pharisees stormed in, screaming, "Adulteress!"  They grabbed me, pulling me out of bed and shoved me toward the door.  Barely awake, I glanced back at the man I had trusted with my heart and deepest needs.  He turned his head away.  Why did they take me and leave him behind?  I later learned that my foolish indiscretion had thrust me into the middle of a malicious plot to entrap and accuse the popular rabbi, Jesus.

Once out the door, I was immediately sandwiched between two fast-walking Pharisees who gripped my arms so tightly they left bruises.  Fighting back tears and unbelievably ashamed, I looked down as they rushed me through the streets, passing shopkeepers and vendors setting up for the day.  I felt sickened and humiliated beyond words.

When we arrived at the temple courts, my band of captors rudely plowed through a large gathering until we reached Jesus.  He was seated, teaching a large crowd that had gathered early that morning.  The two Pharisees pushed me in front of Jesus loudly proclaiming they had caught me in the act of adultery.  As I stood shivering, disheveled and exposed, I knew people were gawking at me, some with looks of sheer disgust.  I could hear the salacious whispering and ridicule going on behind me.  One of the women traveling with Jesus gently placed a cloak on my shoulders.  Tears of appreciation rolled down my cheeks.  I knew what I had done was so wrong, one of the gravest sins according to our law.  But in our culture, the marriages arranged at  childhood are sometimes loveless.  Wives become the property of husbands who can be arrogant and overbearing.  Vulnerable and starved for affection, some risk seeking love elsewhere.

Then the scribes and Pharisees said: "The law of Moses says we should stone her.  What do you say?"  I gasped as I heard those words.   We were a captive nation and Roman law forbade capital punishment for an offense like this.  Would they really stone me?  Horrified, I looked at Jesus.  He seemed to ignore their challenge, and instead, bent down and wrote in the dust with his finger.  Frustrated, they continued to shout questions at him.  Jesus finally straightened up and said, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone."  Then he bent down again, continuing to write in the dust.

In disbelief, I waited for what seemed like an eternity, too frightened to move. My heart thumped so loudly, I could barely hear Jesus when he asked me "Where are they?"  I dared to turn my head and was startled to see that my accusers had slipped away, one by one, beginning with the most prominent.  Jesus was now standing in front of me and said:  "Has no one condemned you?"

Incredulous, I responded, "No one, sir."  Jesus then said, "Neither do I condemn you."  He told me I was free to go and should leave my life of sin.  I was astounded by Jesus' tenderness, his gracious manner.  It was a remarkable contrast to the contempt and disdain of the scribes and Pharisees which was what I expected.  Never would I have anticipated experiencing such forgiveness from a rabbi.

 I turned and made my way through the crowd.  Once on the street, I walked away quickly.  I felt the wind against my face and breathed deep, cleansing breaths of freedom.  Jesus had pardoned me.  So great was God's mercy, it filled my empty heart and gave me hope for new beginnings.

John 8:1-11

(c) Joyce Catherwood 2011

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Send Her Away!

Preface:  Did Jesus really call the Syrophoenician woman who begged for healing for her child a dog?  At first glance, one might think he was rude and insulting to her by telling her it isn't right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.  This reference is to the fact that his major mission during his short earthly ministry was to the Jewish people and not specifically to the surrounding nations which included Phoenicia.  But if you read between the lines, you will see the loving and compassionate Jesus finding himself unable to withhold responding to the humility, persistence and deep faith of a pagan woman and her little daughter in the grips of misery.

The mom from Phoenicia tells her story:

"I was beyond desperate!  My precious little girl was terrified and completely out of her mind.  I sought help everywhere, but no one was able to bring relief.  I had heard of the great Israelite healer, Jesus, and his miracles.  The Jews abhorred our people; so when word spread that Jesus had traveled into Phoenicia, I found it heard to believe he was actually here.  I set out to find him, asking family, friends and even strangers whether they had seen him

"Finally I found him!  I saw him standing in the courtyard of the house where he and his disciples were staying.  My heart filled with hope.  'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!' I cried as I begged him to heal my baby girl.  At first he didn't answer me.  I turned to his disciples, pleading with them to help me get through to Jesus.  They quickly became annoyed with me and urged Jesus to send me away.  They seemed to read into his silence that he must have been irritated by me as they were.

"At last Jesus spoke.  I was so relieved that he had at least responded, I fell at his feet and prayed, 'Lord, help me!'  He explained to me he was sent only to Israel and that I should realize it's not right to take the children's bread and give it to their little dogs.  The children should be allowed to eat all they want first.  And I knew that.  I knew he had been working miracles only in Jewish regions.  I knew we lived in a spiritually dark and pagan corner of the world.  But he was here in our land, standing right in front of me.  So, I said:  'Yes, Lord, I know.  But even the puppies eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table.'

"As I gazed up at him, looking for even the slightest positive sign, Jesus smiled, obviously moved by my response.  He told me I had great faith and my heart's desire had been granted--my daughter was healed!  Overcome with relief, I thanked him over and over.  Then I ran all the way home and found my little one sleeping peacefully.  My sweet daughter's beautiful tiny face was no longer contorted with stark fear and anguish.  I curled up beside her and wept tears of joy.

"Jesus had crossed the border into our country to get away from tiresome arguments with the Pharisees.  He didn't want anyone to know where he was.  Even though in my desperation I had interrupted the privacy Jesus sought, divine pity crossed physical and racial boundaries that day as Jesus reached out to me, an outsider.  I received bread, not crumbs, from the master's table!"
Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30
(c) Joyce Catherwood 2011