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 8:3-11 NRSV
Sometimes I feel like I am drowning in all the garbage of dysfunctional images of a quick fix god who spends his time floating in the air condemning everyone in sight. Where do these images come from? Yes, I know how the church has overcompensated with one image or another in specific historical crisis. And I remember my racist grandfather searching through the bible line by line searching for anything that can justify his ranting against those who are different. I listen today to those who are so scared that their world of exclusive saintliness has come to an end that they desperately proclaim that they and they alone have the truth that will protect us from “those people.”
After I read the above story of the woman not condemned, a teenager asks, “Why would he do that?”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
He continues, “She was guilty wasn’t she? If she is guilty she should be punished.”
I show them a rock I have where I have painted the words “First Stone.” “Why do I need this stone to remind me of something important?” We read the story again. We discuss the different parts.
One of the young adults says, “I remember the post you erased on FB where someone said that instead of all the things we do, including our homeless mission, we should concentrate only on the drinking problems we have. Who did he think he is to judge us? I get so tired of that. I think this is about who is qualified to judge.”
“We do it too,” says one of the young adults. “I criticize people all the time. My mother hit me on the side of the head when I walked in late from school one day. We got into a big fight yelling at each other and all I could think of is how much I would like to slam her. Later I found out she had lost her job and didn’t know how to tell us. I’m too quick to condemn someone.”
“We don’t know what is going on with a person. It’s up to God to judge.” Someone concluded.
“This is too easy,” I say. “It sounds like you are all giving me the ‘right’ answers. Go back to the first question. ‘Why would he do this?’”
One of the teens responded, “He made them think about their own problems instead of why someone else is wrong. And even though he knew she was wrong and he had the right to judge, he still said that he did not condemn her. That’s extreme. That’s really big.”
We left it at that. I know that we haven’t finished with that story. We are so used to censuring and being censured by those who do not have our standards. But to receive the message “Neither do I condemn you,” is so radical an act of majesty.
Somehow to say, “This is really big” may be the most comforting expression that can be said in our limited understanding.
Kaze Gadway has worked with the emerging leaders of the Episcopal Church within the Native American community of Northern Arizona as a volunteer for eleven years. They are youth of promise from ages twelve to twenty-four. The Spirit Journey Youth is an outreach program of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona with forty young people. She is on Facebook and blogs at infaith’s posterous