First off, I’m going to try not to talk as quickly as possible to say everything that I want to say. Some stuff is just going to be left on the cutting room floor. If I don’t answer your burning question about the text now, please ask me later. That’s my little PSA. Here we go…
Verses 1-8 might appear in brackets or have little footnotes in your Bible. The reason they are marked differently is because they do not appear in some of the earliest copies of John. People who were putting together the Bible found this story in some translations of this gospel, but not in others. Furthermore, the story has words and phrases in it that are not anywhere else in the gospel- making it seem like the work of a different author.
However, it was ultimately included and placed here because of the flow of the incident between Jesus, the authorities, and the woman accused of adultery and then the conversation about judgment that comes next. Incidentally, Mosaic law (the law of Moses) says the man and the woman caught in adultery are to be stoned.
In fact, the law is much harsher about the man’s actions because women are property, like livestock, crops, children, and animals. A man had a right to the safety of his property, which means another man who threatened that safety was disturbing civic order. Therefore, he had to be put to death.
That being said, when we read through this passage in its entirety, I want you to keep something in mind about the gospel according to John. In the Fourth Gospel, sin isn’t about action (done or undone), it’s about the failure to believe in Jesus. In particular, it is about the willful failure to see God in Jesus and to understand what God is doing through the Messiah who is right in front of one’s eyes.
It is easy for us, who have the whole story, to ask, “Why didn’t they believe him? Why didn’t they trust God?” It is easy for me to tell you to trust Jesus in your day-to-day life. The words are always easy, but the doing is a whole different matter.
At any point in our lives, if we are going to talk about something we should do, we must also talk about why we don’t do it. What gets in the way? People haven’t changed that much in 2000 years. We want abundant life, the kind of freedom that Jesus promises, but there are things that get in the way.
Who here likes being uncomfortable? Anybody enjoy struggling? Who looooooves new things and the uphill effort to learn how to do or use them?
Trusting in Jesus, then and now, takes courage. Courage is less a personal adjective (something you have or are) and is more something you do. What if we said, you couraged through that, instead of you showed courage.
Our shame, our fears, our dislike of vulnerability get in the way of our couraging through daily life. Most of us are embarrassed by what we don’t know about the Bible, what our devotional life is like versus what we think it should be, our hesitation to do what we’re sure everyone else does so easily. Shame.
Most of us live with real fears- fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of dying, fear of change. Fear. Very few of us sign up for new relationships, for sharing our deepest selves, for being honest, even with one another, about our struggles. Vulnerability.
The people who are encountering Jesus in this story and who fail to believe in him also have shame, fear, and vulnerability. In order to understand Jesus as God’s anointed, as the Son, as God in front of them, they would have admit to how they misunderstood some of the prophets. They would have to be honest about where they had fallen short according to the law. They would be looking God in the eye and admitting their struggles with sin. All of that stuff gets in the way of trusting Jesus.
If sin is the failure to trust in Jesus as the Son of God, its deep roots are shame, fear, and vulnerability. Its rotten fruit is isolation, grief, anger, blame, sarcasm, mistrust, and anything else that gets in the way of our relationship with God and with one another.
That is not God’s desire for us. Not for you. Not for me. We have to talk about these things openly and honestly because they are what gets in the way of what God does want. God wants us to be free.
The reality of Jesus, as revealed in this gospel and through the Holy Spirit, is that by trusting his words, we are trusting God. We are trusting that God wants life for us and for all people. We are trusting that God loves us too much to want us to dwell in darkness. We are trusting that our poor choices do not define us and can be overcome. We are trusting that the way others perceive us is not a shackle to how we must act forever.
Our shame, our fears, our vulnerability- they become the rocks we hold, the rocks we are ready to lob at others to keep them at a distance, the rocks that keep us distracted from relationship. Make fists with both hands- like you’re holding rocks. What can you do with your hands now?
We have to let go of the things that are holding us back, so that we can move forward. In order to have our hands ready to engage, to be in relationship, to do God’s work in the world for ourselves and for others, we have to let go of the rocks of shame, fear, and vulnerability that we tend to throw at others and use to hit ourselves.
Shame, fear, and vulnerability can enslave us. We know what Jesus said about that, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Freedom is at hand. The Spirit can help us drop what’s holding us back. We can’t do it on our own. And we don’t have to.
Much of this was inspired while reading Brene' Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection.