Neither Victim nor Victor
“Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery” . . . [He] said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ . . . Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. “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
An estimated 40 percent of married people have cheated or will cheat on their spouse. Even controlling for the fact that you, gentle readers, are people of faith, it doesn’t mean you are immune to these temptations.
But there is a further temptation in today’s story of sin and forgiveness: to suddenly shift our blame from the woman to the men who were judging her, because Jesus himself went after them. There is a strong disposition in us humans to locate all wrong in one person or group, to divide the world into victims and victors.
I can imagine the woman, rescued from death by her protector, repurposing her fear as righteous anger and saying to Jesus: “Thank you for saving me from those hateful monsters!” And going her way, vindicated in her love affair.
But Jesus didn’t let her. He held everybody accountable.
“Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Jesus forgives her, which is different from letting her off the hook.
Jesus empowers the woman to accept that she has acted of her own volition—and can act differently in the future.
What would it be like if, in our own lives, we took refuge neither in victim nor victor status? What if we acknowledged the truth of our past, really allowed ourselves to receive God’s forgiveness, and emboldened by that holy love, embraced a different future, one where we would choose, more often, a better path?
Jesus, see me. Jesus, protect me. Jesus, forgive me. Jesus, help me to live a new life, one choice at a time. Amen.
Molly Baskette is lead pastor of the quirky, loveable and truth-telling First Church Somerville UCC in Somerville, MA. Read their personal testimonies in her latest book, Standing Naked Before God: The Art of Public Confession.