Inverting Perceptions

This week it’s my job to speak in church from John 8, a story that opens with what we commonly call ‘the woman caught in adultery’ and is then followed by an almost Monty Python like routine between Jesus and the Pharisees where they argue about his identity.

I’ve spoken numerous times before from this opening story, and have always referred to it by that familiar title ‘woman caught in adultery’, until today as I was preparing and I found myself asking ‘why this title?’ Why not ‘religious leaders caught in self righteousness’? Or as one of my FB friends suggested ‘Patriarchal hypocrisy’?

I think we use the familiar title because this is where the various Bible editors have led us to. It’s the chapter heading in most Bibles and we have just learnt to accept it. Is it possible that there are more men than women on Bible editing teams and this is a male perception of the story? I wonder how a female team may have described this story?

Perhaps we need to change the title of the story, because the focus of John’s narrative is definitely not on the woman’s sin – but on the tactics the Pharisees employed to try and ‘check-mate’ Jesus.

The second question I found myself mulling over as I read the dialogue was ‘why does Jesus engage with these people like he does?‘ Is he not better to just walk away and let them be? Doesn’t he know that this is sheer futility? That you never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it)

The only sensible conclusion I can come to for Jesus’ persistent, unfiltered critique of the Pharisees is that sometimes you just have to go after evil systems and call out those who are perpetuating them. Sometimes gentle, kind persuasion doesn’t work. You have to speak directly to the issue in a way that evokes a response. I remember in the early days of running with the Forge tribe that our critique of the church was at times brutal and abrasive. It was intentionally confronting, because I suspect gentle nudges would not have made a difference. While the systems weren’t ‘evil’ the challenge of changing them required more than a ‘have you considered?…’

I seriously think we would have counselled Jesus to ‘let it go’, but he clearly didn’t think that was the best way of dismantling the broken religious systems of his time. Perhaps there is a time for abandoning tact and simply speaking truth in a confronting way. Of course the challenge is that we are not Jesus and our motives are rarely as pure as his…

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