When Jesus doesn’t do justice like I want
…Jesus bent over and wrote something in the dirt with His finger.
later to the woman—
Jesus: Well, I do not condemn you either; all I ask is that you go and from now on avoid the sins that plague you.
Grace. If I could sum up the whole of the gospel in my life, I may use this word: grace. Mercy, honor, favor, pardon, generosity. Acceptance of what is. Graciousness. Unmerited favor. Charis.
Jesus gives the woman grace, and also calls her to be who she is created to be–released from the pattern of sin that no doubt dominates her life (as it can ours).
But this story irks me. This woman is caught in an entrenched patriarchal system. The law of Moses saw women as property, and therefore, a woman belonged to her husband. Adultery, then, was not a sin against herself, but a sin against the husband. The adultery laws were very few for the men. In fact, under the law, men could have sex with an unmarried woman who did not belong to another man without penalty. The woman would bear the penalty, but because she was no one’s property, the man did not. In Exodus 20, desiring another’s property (wife, slaves, ox, donkey, etc) was sinful.
So here is the woman, and notably, her partner-in-crime is missing.
I really would have liked Jesus to address this injustice in the passage. I would like for him to have used this as an opportunity to redefine patriarchal law and call for the man to come before these church rulers. And then he could offer grace to both of them. Or maybe first just to the woman, who had few choices but to use her body as power in that society. Perhaps Jesus could have addressed this with the man and did a little “clearing out of the temple”—throwing a few tables around and generally making an impression that this patriarchal system was the real sin and bondage, a thousand times more than the adultery.
I am disappointed.
Do you ever feel disappointed with the Bible? That it could have been clearer? That Jesus, or Paul, or someone could have said something differently—that somehow the history of the Church could have shifted because the scripture was a bit more clear on some things. I want to see justice defined like I think it should be.
Hmmm…guess I haven’t learned very much about grace.
Isn’t that why grace is such a difficult issue in the Church? We all have our ideas of what “restitution” is, what “addressing the issue fully” looks like. As people of God we offer grace, and others say, “but there should be consequences,” or the person has to “earn back the trust.” And so to one person, grace is simply forgiveness, to another grace must come with a call to accountability, and to another grace is following a certain policy.
Grace is complex and simple. Grace is being a person who does not condemn others (or ourselves). Grace is calling people to who they are beyond their sin—as many as there are churches, there are thoughts about what this looks like.
But the crux of the practice of grace is living in the place in which Jesus is bent down, writing with his finger across the dirt of our hearts. When we live in the midst of our own dust, aware of the stones that could mark us, we are free to be people of grace in others’ lives.
Can I trust God to turn even patriarchy fully on its head in the end? Scripture calls for it. I will believe that through grace, God will bring justice and truth.
Contributed by Sarah Baldwin, Newberg Friends