Is 43:16-21; Phil 3:8-14; John 8:1-11.

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots for you.

Similar to last week, the Gospel reading this week is rich with preachable themes and images that play very well during this season of Lent. I will divide the verses from the Gospel of John into sections and suggest some ideas. I hope that they may be of some help.

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them.

Jesus descends the Mount of Olives, passes through Garden of Gethsemane, walks momentarily into the Kidron Valley and ascends to the Golden Gate that opens into the walled city of Jerusalem.

In a few minutes he enters the Temple courtyard. One might imagine who made up the crowds that surrounded Jesus in the long shadows cast by the massive temple in the early morning sun.

The crowds have never heard a person speak with such authority. They are attracted by the message that Jesus preaches regarding the mercy, love and forgiveness of the Father. They are sinners who have found hope -- people in darkness who have found the light of salvation in Jesus. It is the perfect setting in which to trap Jesus.

Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.

Perhaps the scribes and Pharisees have been planning this ambush for months. Several variables had to simultaneously unite to make for an indefensible attack. They needed 1) Jesus to publicly appear in the temple courtyard, 2) to find him surrounded by a crowd who welcomes the message of mercy and compassion, 3) to have in custody a woman and not a man who would have more rights to be vocal in his defense, and 4) to have a woman who was not only accused of committing adultery but who was caught in the very act -- making the case simple to prosecute.

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. So what do you say? They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him.

The scribes and Pharisees have Jesus in the pickle of all pickles. The woman is clearly guilty of an offense that is punishable by death by stoning as prescribed by law. In Leviticus 20:10 it reads -- If a man commits adultery with his neighbor's wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. In Deuteronomy 22:20-21 it reads -- But if this charge is true, and evidence of the girl's virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father's house and there her townsmen shall stone her to death, because she committed a crime against Israel by her unchasteness in her father's house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst.

Jesus must uphold the law; however he is surrounded by a crowd who has heard him speak with power and authority about the love, mercy, and forgiveness of the heavenly Father. What is he to do? What is he to say? If he endorses the Law he loses credibility with the crowds. If he refutes the Law he will be publicly shamed by the scribes and Pharisees.

A theme that may preach here is that the USE of a person and the USE of the Law will always backfire -- sooner or later. It is obvious that the scribes and the Pharisees are not genuinely in need of the legal advice of Jesus. They have not actually found themselves in an ambiguous quandary regarding the Law. The woman is merely a pawn -- merely a means to their end to publicly shame Jesus. What is more, they are using the Law not as a means of justice but again as a means to publicly shame Jesus. Perhaps we have fallen into the same temptation of using people or the Law for similar purposes -- to hurt, to shame, to embarrass, to discredit.

Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him,

Scholars have proposed some interesting theories regarding the writing of Jesus on the ground. Perhaps he was stalling as his mind raced to find an appropriate response.

Perhaps Jesus wanted to create an uncomfortable silence to cause the scribes and Pharisees to vocalize their question again and again so that those present who were sensitive to the insincerity of their question would sympathizes with the woman.

There is even a legend that has Jesus writing the sins of those present into the sandy ground in order to shame their consciences into abandoning their insincere question.

Regardless of the motive of Jesus to write it is a fascinating image unlike anything written in any Gospel.

he straightened up and said to them, Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.

They plotted, planned, strategized and conspire with a sure-fire attack. Yet, Jesus responds with a combination of words that the scribes and Pharisees thought incalculable. Interestingly, Jesus bends down and writes on the ground again. Perhaps a lesson can be learned from this action of Jesus. If Jesus remained standing with his arms crossed bearing a lopsided grin perhaps a Pharisee or two would try to spar with him using the Law or the woman who stood as a pawn in the midst of them. Instead Jesus refuses to USE his response to jab and jeer. He responds to their question and allows them to reflect upon them.

And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.

Perhaps the elders left first because they knew intellectually that they had could not shame Jesus after hearing his response. Or , perhaps they left first because their hearts were genuinely moved by the response of Jesus. Regardless, they went away one by one perhaps pointing to genuine individual reflection.

Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She replied, No one, sir. Then Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin any more.

Jesus still has work to do. The woman that the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus to use as an object of instigation will be treated as a person in need of love and encouragement. Jesus does no condemn, but he also demands conversion. The woman is told to sin no more.

Preaching themes: Do not use people. Do not use the Law, Religion, the Commandments, etc. as a means to jab or shame. Correct or challenge others with humility; for it illicits heartfelt reflection. Do not condemn, but do not tolerate the continuation of sin. Challenge to sin no more.

Blessed preaching.

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