A Homily for the Wednesday after Lent II
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who comes bringing life rather than condemnation. Amen.
We begin this evening in media res, in the middle of the story – or at least at the tail-end of one just before the next installment. This isn’t by accident.
Throughout the seventh chapter of Saint John, Christ is back in Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths (one of the three major pilgrimages in Second Temple Judaism), and as so often happens, his teaching brought him into direct and public confrontation with both the Sadducees and the Pharisees. While he’s teaching in the Temple, Jesus told the Temple, “…none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking to kill me?” Or, put another way, If I must die to fulfill the Law, what must happen to you?
With the entire crowd abuzz about whether or not this wandering preacher might really be the Messiah, and with tension building in the city just as it did back in chapter three when Jesu came to Jerusalem for the Passover, the religious leaders decide it’s finally time to take action before the city erupts in riots. A few people in the crowd even try to detain Jesus themselves, but they’re not able to touch him “because his hour had not yet come.”
The Pharisees and the priests send out the Temple police to arrest Jesus, and they find him on the last day of the festival, just as Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of the believers heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (This is a theme we shall see again on Sunday.) And again, the crowd begins to discuss whether he might actually be the Messiah – some want to crown him, and others want to kill him.
When the police report back to the Temple leaders, with no chained prisoner to show for their efforts, they hint that a few of them are even convinced by his teachings.
The officials…don’t take it well. They look at the guards and say (if I may paraphrase), What, you too? Well we don’t believe him, so why would this group that clearly doesn’t understand the Law and the Prophets?
During all of this, Nicodemus – yeah, he’s back! – speaks up to point out that there should at least be a trial before they condemn Jesus. His contribution goes over just about as well as you would expect; the other Pharisees mock him, saying, “Surely you are not also from Galilee are you?” (Or, in modern terms, You’re acting as dumb as this heretical country bumpkin.)
“Then” – and only after all of that build up – “each of them when home, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.”
Our text tonight finds us back in the Temple the next day; Jesus is teaching when the religious leaders barge in with a woman caught in adultery. According to the Law, they point out, she ought to be stoned to death.
It’s a direct challenge to everything that happened in the prior chapter. Well Mr. Follow-the-Law Smarty-Pants, you want us to follow the Law of Moses? Or do you want to defend this adulteress woman? Is that what you what, huh Jesus?
It is, as you might suspect, a trap. What is required under the Mosaic law is not permitted under the imperial law. As is so often the case in these exchanges, the Pharisees were putting Jesus on the spot to either run afoul of the Torah or of Caesar.
Our Lord bends down and writes in the sand – what we cannot know. Perhaps it’s the Ten Commandments, or maybe, in a reference to Jeremiah 17, “which declares that those who depart from God shall be written in the earth,” Christ might be writing down a list of names. Maybe he’s just doodling.
As he writes, though, he says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to thrown a stone at her.” It’s a stinging rebuke and an echo of what he has already asked them a chapter earlier: Do you follow the Law of Moses yourselves? Or only when you want to kill someone? If you have kept the Law all your days, then by all means, go ahead, but if this is simply about exercising your authority at the cost of others, walk away.
Silence. A stone drops. More silence. Another stone softly hitting the dirt. And another.
Jesus looks up and sees only the woman.
“Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, Lord.”
“Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”
The Law is a mirror, reflecting our own sin back at us. In it, we see the rot and decay of our fallen humanity. We see the wage of sin, that is death itself.
But, as we read on Sunday, Christ came not to condemn the world but to offer us life. In Christ, the old, decaying, rotten, sinful selves, dead in their sin under the Law, are brought into a new and incorruptible life.
On our way to Jerusalem, remember this: in the waters of Baptism, your sins were washed away. You died the only death that will truly matter, and you were joined to the Resurrected Life of our Lord Jesus. Cling to Christ and find life.