In light of current discussions, I’m posting below some extract’s from Ched Myers sermon on Jesus and The Woman Caught in Adultery in John 8 preached at the celebration of St. Andrew’s College, Saskatoon becoming an Affirming Ministry of the United Church of Canada in 2009.
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…Now comes the moment in our story that any church in moral quandary or ethical debate putatively longs for. In bumper sticker parlance: WWJD? The One who our Christian orthocrats deem to be “without sin” is about to issue his official ruling on this matter, to offer unequivocal guidance on the issue they deem to represent the moral watershed. Here at last is God’s own edict concerning the boundaries of marriage law, free of cultural static. Let’s settle this hash once and for all.
And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you…’ This verb (in Greek katakrinō), which appears twice here in John’s punch line, is important. It is employed by the apostle Paul in his famous argument for divine grace in Romans 1-2.
This is germane because it is there that we also find the verse (Rom 1:26f) that is used incessantly by the Christian morality tsars to beat up homosexuals.
This is,of course, another example of these friends missing the point. In fact, Paul’s conclusion in Rom 2:1 sounds very much like Jesus’ “proposition” in John 8:
You are without excuse, whoever you are who would judge, for in passing judgment on the other, you condemn (Gk katakrineis) yourself, because you are practicing the very same things!
Indeed, Paul’s theological manifesto on grace in Rom 6-8 culminates with the extraordinary and unequivocal declaration:
“There is therefore no condemnation (Gk katakrima) for those who are in Christ Jesus!” (Rom 8:1).
Such does not appear, however, to be the faith of those who invoke the apostle to exclude gays and lesbians. Instead, Constitutional amendments and righteous resolutions and threatened splits fly like stones, with intent to kill.
John’s story ends abruptly with Jesus’ simple invitation to a fresh start: “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” The Divine guidance we’ve been waiting for turns out to be what Elsa Tamez calls “the amnesty of grace.” Restorative justice trumps retributive legalism. And the moral of the story: the one true prerequisite to rendering judgment is self-examination. (emphasis his)
As so often with scripture, this ancient wisdom invites us into some deep waters. John’s scenario of the authorities gathered to “execute justice”—that grimmest of double entendres—has, of course, been repeated ad nauseum in the history of our church—but without the happy ending. Jesus’ response unmasks the two characteristics that lay beneath the theology and politics of condemnation.
One is the presumption that one’s own position on the issue is normative. The other is a distinct lack of humility. Both are necessary to sustain an effort to render another person or group inferior or expendable, and both lead to ideologies, practices, policies of dehumanization. No matter how painfully polite or putatively pious the anthropological exclusionists may be, this is the spiritual and psychological reality.
…But there is one more thing to be said about John 8. That is the way it immediately circles around and cracks back on those of us who would assume the heroic stand of solidarity. It short circuits our impulse to condemn those who are condemning. How quick we are to replicate the very characteristics this story exposes—to absolutize our own position, and to jettison humility in our righteous advocacy. We love to imagine—at least in our hearts—the excommunication of our enemies. But as soon as we start reaching for stones to hurl, Jesus is going to switch sides.
This story’s wildly circulating grace confounds any attempt to redraw the lines of in and out. We should not be too sure of ourselves, because we have a long way to go to truly embody solidarity, and we have all too many blind spots. We all have to figure out what it means to “sin no more”—issues of ethical behavior remain after inclusion has been secured. As Audrey Lorde famously put it, we must be vigilant in “doing our own work.”
And as for humility, we could start by asking why it took us so long —both as individuals and as institutions—to take our stand with the vulnerable, who were enduring their marginalization long before we showed up. It seems to me that part of the self-examination to which Jesus invites everyone in John 8 is to acknowledge that we are all on a journey to deeper and wider communion. This includes our adversaries, with whom we must have empathy even as we do battle. We are all only on the road, not at the destination, and no one is beyond the reach of grace. As Gandhi put it, even our adversaries have part of the truth; as M.L. King put it, they too must find a place in the Beloved Community.