Wednesday, 1 March 2017
Start:Stop - Go your way, and do not sin again
The scribes and the 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 on 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.” (John 8. 1 – 11)
In today’s reading, Jesus is faced with a dilemma involving a scapegoat. A woman has been caught in adultery, the Law of Moses says that she should be stoned, and the teachers of the law bring her to Jesus and ask him what they should do. The woman is a scapegoat because she has been singled out. It is she, not her partner in adultery, which has been brought before Jesus. And it is she that has been singled out, not any other of the men or women in that place who might have committed adultery.
How does Jesus respond? He says that anyone there who has never sinned should be the one to cast the first stone and begin the stoning. One by one, everyone in the crowd leaves because no one has never sinned. Each of us is a sinner and, therefore, none of us are in a place where we can honestly judge another person. That other person is guilty of sinning but so are we, how then can we judge them?
The one person in that situation who had a right to cast the first stone because he was without sin was Jesus. And he says, “I do not condemn you.” In verse 15 of chapter 8, Jesus says, “You make judgments in a purely human way; I pass judgment on no one.” This is a crystal clear statement from Jesus about our tendency to scapegoat others. Because of our sin, we cannot in all conscience condemn another person and God himself does not condemn or judge either. Jesus makes it plain and clear that scapegoating others is wrong in every circumstance.
Lent prepares us for Easter and at Easter we remember that God himself became a scapegoat when he was nailed to the cross for the sins of the whole world. Jesus became the ultimate scapegoat in order that there should be no more scapegoating because his death shows us clear and plain that God accepts and forgives all people.
Often, we prepare ourselves during Lent for Easter by giving something up. This is a form of fasting but it is not meant to be focused on ourselves, like a diet is as we try to lose weight. Instead fasting or self-denial should be focused outside of ourselves. In Isaiah we read that the kind of fasting God wants is for us to “remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free.” As those who follow God, we should actively work for the relief of those who are scapegoated in our world. The two things can go together as, by denying ourselves luxuries during Lent, we can release money to go to those who have been scapegoated here and in other parts of the world.
But the kind of fasting that God calls for, the ending of scapegoating, isn’t just about giving financially. It is also about the ending of scapegoating in our own lives and communities. It means addressing the issues of bullying, in and out of school, among young people. It means resisting the calls of those, like the far-right, who want us to scapegoat asylum seekers and refugees instead of providing the welcome for which the Bible calls. It means living out hospitality and welcome to those of other faiths in our local community. This Lent let us give willingly and joyfully to relieve oppression throughout our world but let us not use that as a reason to avoid the challenges to counter scapegoating that arise in our own community as well.
My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to sin no more by amending my life and avoiding the near occasions of sin. Our Saviour Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his name, my God, have mercy. We thank you that you do not condemn. Teach us how to go on our way without sinning again.
I pray thee, grant unto me the Grace of thy Holy Spirit, that thus strengthened, I may shun all evil deeds and works, and words and thoughts, and may avoid all snares of the Evil One. Shine in my heart with the true Sun of thy Righteousness; enlighten my mind and guard all my senses, that walking uprightly in the way of thy statutes, I may attain unto life eternal. We thank you that you do not condemn. Teach us how to go on our way without sinning again.
Rebuke me not, O Lord, in thy displeasure, neither punish me in thy wrath, but show unto me thy great mercy and compassion, O Physician and Healer of my soul. O Merciful Saviour, blot out all my transgressions, for I am heartily sorry for having offended thee. Grant me thy Grace that I may avoid my previous evil ways. Strengthen me, O Mighty One, to withstand those temptations before which I am weak, that I may avoid all future sin. Keep me under thy protection and in the shadow of thy wings, that I may serve thee, praise thee, and glorify thee all the days of my life. We thank you that you do not condemn. Teach us how to go on our way without sinning again.
Christ the good shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep, draw you and all who hear his voice, to be one flock within one fold; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.
Jessi Colter - Psalm 136.