I had a chance to give a talk based on scripture a few days ago. Here is the gist of it, minus the vocal inflections and occasional waving about of hands (not to be confused with laying on of hands).
Jesus and the Woman: John 7:53, 8:1 – 11
One more week, and one more day, and the election ads will cease, the polls will trail off, the pundits will… well, they’ll keep spouting, I guess, but the volume level might come down a bit. for as long as 10 minutes. I hope so. I am tired of being yelled at, especially tired of hearing about myself and other women as a specific slice of female torso, with no other body, no mind, no life, and not even a wallet to consider. And most especially tired of being told (mostly by men) what God’s will is for me, my sister, and my nieces.
Telling me about contraception. Abortion. And rape. Legitimate rape, forcible rape, emergency rape, false rape, God-intended rape and easy rape, with never any comment on the responsibility of the man, and, in the case of rape, the rapist (the actual criminal).
“There is nothing new under the sun”, says The Preacher in Ecclesiastes.
When the Pharisees haul a woman over to Jesus – one woman, no man – claiming “she was caught in adultery and Moses said we should stone her, and what do you say?”, something’s a little suspect. a little off.
The gospel writer says the scribes and Pharisees were testing Jesus, and hoping to be able to bring charges against him should he say the wrong thing. “Moses said to stone her. What do you say?” Since under Roman law, they had no power to execute anyone for anything, they must have thought they had him, coming or going. Yes to Moses equals no to Rome, Yes to Rome, no to Moses. Either way, that trap is sprung.
But that’s not the whole of it. The law of Moses says both parties are to be put to death, adulteress and adulterer. Not only that, it says so twice, once in Leviticus, and once in Deuteronomy. It’s very clear. So why are the Pharisees showing up with only the woman? Was she really caught in adultery? Perhaps she was innocent. Perhaps she was an “easy rape”. They wait for Jesus to say something in response.
But he doesn’t. He doesn't say anything. They didn’t see that coming. He leans over and writes in the dirt. When they fuss at him, he says “Let whichever one of you who is without sin throw the first stone,” and writes again. They obviously didn’t expect that, either, and to give them credit, they knew they did not meet that standard. Or they knew their colleagues knew they didn’t, and one by one, they slip away. With them gone, she has no accusers. There is only Jesus, only love, only forgiveness; there is only Jesus and the woman.
How many times in the gospels do we see this same picture, Jesus and a woman, speaking as equals? At the well in Samaria, in the nard-scented dining room of a house in Bethany, in the crush of a crowd near Capernaum, outside Lazarus’ tomb, and certainly in the garden on Easter morning – even though there may be men around, they often recede into the background as Jesus speaks directly to women, and women answer him with equal directness in speech and gesture. It is not to his female followers that Jesus has to explain and explain and explain himself. They get it. First to proclaim the gospel – the Samaritan woman at the well, first to see and proclaim the risen Lord – the Magdalene – the women get it. There is no gender inequality when the man in the room is Jesus. When Jesus is present, there is no inequality of any kind.
If, as Christians, we reach back to Leviticus for our guiding principles, forswearing haircuts, wearing only one type of fabric at a time, insisting that women submit to their fathers, their husbands, because the Bible tells us so…. Well, yes, it does, because before Jesus, that’s how things were. Women did not own property, they were property, and breeding stock. And centuries later, when the Church took some parts of Paul’s letters as the absolute last word on how women should behave – be quiet in church, and do not teach, for instance – women again had to submit, submit, submit.
But that’s not the only thing Paul said. In his letter to community at Galatia, he wrote:
… for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female [social structure]; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:26-28).
Throughout Jesus’ brief and intense three-year ministry, and for a while after the resurrection, the poor, the sick, the grieving, and yes, the women, were seen, and heard, and honored, and equal, just as we were in the first chapter of Genesis, in the Garden, made in God’s image.
Nowadays, when people talk about “biblical womanhood”, that’s the part they leave out. When I hear them use the words “biblical womanhood”, I wonder why they omit the good news of the gospel? Who edited out all the red words? Some very vocal Christians seem to believe and proclaim a lot of wacky things about women, things that include some very bad science, and none of the words and actions of Jesus. You’d think Jesus never lived.
But he did, oh yes, he did. And he does. And in him we are one, and we are free.