Mining the Word: Ali Ali Oxen Free

When all those who were about to throw stones at her left, Jesus asked the woman who had committed adultery, “Is there no one left to condemn you?” The woman answered, “No one sir.” And then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

So ends the story of John 8, controversial in its pedigree, s scholars debate whether it was original to the gospel, and yet often quoted.  The image is powerful:  a woman standing alone, guilty.  Jesus stands with her, gives her voice, and another chance.

This scripture resounds as I think about the young woman who got pregnant with twins, hid it from her parents, and when the newborn babies’ cries pierced the silence of her shame, smothered them.

Some will pick up the stones but others will remember Jesus’ command, “Let the one without sin be the first to throw the stone.”  And, yet, we wonder, how can we prevent this
from happening?  How can we keep a young woman alive to hope beyond her first transgression?  Perhaps we might even look at ourselves:  how do we stay alive when we are ashamed of our actions?

For it seems to me that none of us can escape sin.  Or, if you prefer, none of us can make it
through life without feeling shame, now and again, for something wrong we have
done.  When we are ashamed, one response is to hide, hoping the ramifications of the wrong will blow away and no one will know.

I remember playing hide and seek when I was young.   I’d look for a small area in which I could conceal myself from sight.  It was always remarkable how many hiding places could be found.  How thrilling to wait there as the seeker walked by.  That was the moment I could race to the street light which we called home. “Free,” I’d happily exclaim.

The places where we’d hide were always small.  We’d crouch uncomfortably, looking around the corner to see if the seeker was near.  It was a fun game, but it would be a remarkably difficult life style.

Jesus says, “do not sin again.”  As already said, sin is part of what we do from time to time despite our best efforts.   If you agree, then Jesus’ words are not meant to suggest we can be sin free the rest of our lives.  Rather, they are meant to stop the second sin, the one that tries to hide the first, the one that allows shame, not God, to have reign.

Contemporary Christian singers have given beat and melody to forgiveness.  Mainline Protestants take their cue from Luther, “by grace and not works we are saved” and often confess their sins in an unison prayer before the sharing of the Lord’s Supper.  Catholics are given the duty of coming to church during the week to confess to a priest where they are given the penance of prayer.  Whether or not we have been caught, Christians exclaim, we are free and we are in continuing relationship with God who loves us.

In this way, Christians give voice to that which is stronger than “thou shalt not.”

Still the struggle goes on.

In my ministry I’ve often heard words like these:  If Iwere a proper Christian, then I wouldn’t have gone down this path.   This is God’s punishment, I deserve it.  When these thought have their way it is a human impulse to hide, to run away, for when God is against us, who can be for us?

Who?

Jesus…

and those who would truly follow him.

Forgiveness embodied allows a soul to come out of hiding and opens the door to God’s possibilities beyond the first sin.  We, as Jesus’ followers, are called to embody forgiveness.  It is simple really to do what Jesus did that day.  Wait–remain when all who would throw stones have gone.  Look tenderly into the face of the one who can barely stand, seeking to see them as Jesus would if he were there.  Listen and love.  Finally, trust God enough to let go, to send the other out, having done what you could.

Through all who choose to embody forgiveness, God shouts to those hiding in fear, ali ali oxen free, come out wherever you are, you are free.

In Christ,

Heather

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