by Fr. Pat McNulty.
A reflection on John 8:11, the story of the woman taken in adultery, the gospel reading for March 17th, the 5th Sunday of Lent.
You been on this Adam and Eve thing since you wrote that book, Reverend. I can’t even think of the name of it now.
I Live Now Not I is the title. Yes, but my Adam and Eve "thing" is really quite normal, I think:
I’ve never understood why they didn’t just tell the truth instead of blaming everybody else when God asked.
"It was the woman," Adam said, meaning, "Not me!" "It was the serpent," Eve said, meaning, "Not me!" I wonder what the poor serpent would have said if God had asked him.
I’ve always wondered why they didn’t accept responsibility, just tell the truth. Then maybe God could have responded differently for all of us.
Well, don’t forget, Reverend, we’re dealin’ here with the very first sin ever. This was sin big time, O-riginal sin. Adam and Eve didn’t have any other way to look at sin like you and I do. So what could you expect?
I know, and we have to be very careful because this whole Adam and Eve scenario is part of Divine Revelation.
And, as a Christian, of course, I know that there is another way of looking at my own sins in the light of Christ, but for a long time I never personally experienced the difference.
Usually, when it came to my personal sin, like so many other people I know, I was right back in The Garden with Adam and Eve: "It’s not my fault; it’s him/her." "It’s not my fault; it’s the Church." "It’s not my fault; it’s my family history." "It’s not my fault; it’s in my genes."
And P.S., the Serpent just loves it: "Hiss. Hiss. Hiss."
But as the years went by and I would come across these powerful gospel events in the New Testament about Jesus and his baffling response to the sinful behaviour of certain people, the light began to dawn for me.
I think the last piece of the puzzle came together while I was a curate in the cathedral and read the gospel story about the woman caught in adultery at a time when I was dealing with a similar public sinner to whom we gave the less demeaning name of, "a lady of the night."
In case you’re interested, Reverend, you already did an article on this gospel lady and your famous "lady of the night" for Lent a long time ago.
Oh? And how would you know that, Mr. Smarty?
Because when we were talkin’ about that yesterday, it rang a bell, so I checked it out on your computer. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist, you know: just open the file titled "Restoration," type in "lady of the night" and there it is: 5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C, 2004. Ho. Ho. Ho*.
Anyway, that old article is about some local prostitute at your downtown church who kept comin’ to the Communion rail every Sunday knowin’ that you wouldn’t give her Communion. Right?
And then one Sunday you got distracted and you gave her Communion anyway. Right?
That’s part of it, my friend. But it was a revelation for me, under those circumstances, with that very gospel having just been read, to see how Jesus finally dealt with this real public sinner who humbly, silently, and without defending herself, came right up to him at the Communion rail every Sunday for at least two years, knowing that she would be turned away because of her sinful public behaviour.
And yet, out of her silence, her defenselessness, and her humility, Jesus decided otherwise.
Well, whatever way you cut it, Reverend, sin is sin. And as far as that woman in the Bible caught in adultery goes, most people forget the last part of the story, the part where Jesus tells her, "and don’t do it no more."
All you ever hear is about those guys, who probably set this poor woman up anyway, who left one by one after Jesus got done with them, and then she got off scot-free.
Actually, she didn’t get off scot-free, and I think that’s part of the new revelation, the new light Jesus casts on sin here in the New Testament, something we can only comprehend if we pay very close attention to what was going on in this woman’s heart.
Regardless of her sin, she had every right to defend herself, to point out the hypocrisy of her accusers, even to explain her own social, economic plight or talk about the wounds from her family history which played a part in her situation as well. In other words, do the Adam and Eve thing just like many of us.
But, what did she do instead? What did she say? Nothing! Just like the "lady of the night," she was silent and humble before the truth of her own behaviour, her own sin.
And, remember, she had no idea what Jesus was going to do: he was a full-fledged rabbi and could have legally called for her stoning right then and there.
But it’s there in that painful, vulnerable, silent state of the human heart that we are made ready for what Jesus wants to give us all: unconditional forgiveness.
But it’s not really scot-free, because the price is sometimes even worse than stoning.
Still sounds scot-free to me!
No, no, my friend, because we sinners soon enough realize that, in spite of the immensity of Jesus’ gift, we fall again and again and have to come back to Jesus again and again with nothing to show him for his unconditional love but a new cry for his mercy.
It can look or feel like the old Adam and Eve syndrome of blaming everybody else and of not hearing the "go and sin no more" part of the divine revelation, but it’s not.
The New Testament reveals to us that there is this new way to come before God: perfectly aware of our sins, hiding nothing, and choosing to stand in some new biblical silence, no defence, humble before a rightful verdict.
And then it reveals to us that something unearthly and unexplainable can happen between us and Jesus under those very circumstances.
It’s at that moment that we understand what Jesus really means when he says, go and sin no more, even though we know we probably will anyway.
And we can’t know that until we realize that we are, in truth, just like any "lady of the night" or public sinner waiting to be stoned.
Because, as Christians, it is not sin or sinlessness which defines us. It’s our being all wrapped up in the awesome mercy of Jesus Christ given to everyone in every circumstance if we really want it.
All we have to do is ask for it. And it begins by simply crying out the name of the One who gives it, over and over, until all the excuses are gone and there is just you and Him there in the silence: Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.
So, what about Adam and Eve? You just gonna leave them there in their "original" misery?
No, because of the Communion of Saints, I believe Adam and Eve are ever thankful that, after all those years, the powerful lesson of their own humble journey is an essential part of teaching us about this new life in Christ.
Now you’re preachin’ hope, Reverend, Amen!
Not bad for a public sinner, huh?
If you enjoy our articles, we ask you to please consider subscribing to the print edition of Restoration; it's only $10 a year, and will help us stay in print. Thanks, and God bless you!