Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 22 - April/May 2008 > What an example!
What an example!
by Erica Green
What an example! -- No condemnation of good or bad girls
In my Mother's era women grew up to be wives and mothers (hopefully in that order) which was their complete raison d'ętre. It was acceptable for women to be in the workforce, but only temporarily, until such time as a man deigned to smile upon their countenance and favour them with a proposal of marriage, upon which they resigned their employment to look after their husband and to keep house. For my Mum's generation, it had only just started to become acceptable for women to fulfil the role of part-time income earner, once their childbearing days were over and their kids were off at school.
Going back another generation, in my Grandmother's era, women were expected to produce boys to help run the farm. A girl or two would be acceptable, in addition to the boys of course, to look after their parents in their dotage. They were expected to work at home with their mother, learning the skills of running a household, until they were married and it was time for them to set up their own household. I remember family stories about my Granny, who was apparently extremely peeved when the youngest of her daughters wanted to leave home to further her education. Her place was to stay at home and look after her.
Going back even further now, into Bible time territory, women were not even considered important enough to be included in a head count. In the telling of the story of the feeding of the 5,000, the number quoted here does not even include women and children. They really did not seem to count for much, even though it was they who held the entire family structure together and were responsible for the development of the next generation.
Given the generational rift between now and bible times, one might be excused from having difficulty in identifying with the stories of women in the Bible. Much of the Bible is written from the patriarchal perspective that prevailed in those times. I remember, as a teenager, seeking out some books from the local Christian bookshop on women in the bible. I had hoped to find some characters with whom I could identify. Unfortunately this was not to be the case. The books were filled with what I considered at the time to be, either 'wet goody two shoes' or 'sad' women, which you really would not want to identify with. If this was what Christianity had in store for women, I was not so sure that I was up for the task nor was I all that keen on the image.
The books covered categories such as: (my classifications here, not those of the official publishers.)
- Ruth and Naomi - Perfect Mother and daughter in law. I still can't come to grips with this one!
- Esther - The beautiful Queen. What about us 'plain' girls? That one didn't fit either.
- Miriam - A baby sitter. Uh Uh, not for me! Never changed a nappy in my life and not intending to.
- Dorcas - A dressmaker. We had to do dressmaking at school. I never did really master the task. Oh, I can sew on a button and take up a hem, but that is about it and I do it under sufferance.
- Leah - Whose father had to go to the lengths of tricking someone into marrying her. I really did not want to identify with this one!
And then … the Ultimate in 'Super Woman'
- The classic, Proverbs 31 text that is trotted out ad nauseum every mother's day.
A wife of noble character who can find?...
She is worth far more than rubies......
She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar....
She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls...
Her children and husband rise up and call her blessed…
She makes linen garments and sells them... etc.
I know there are some amazing women around, but please, give me a break. What an image to have to try and live up to. My husband is lucky if I even remember to bring home cereal from the supermarket, let alone have him rise up and call me blessed. Mind you, the bit about servant girls sparked my interest for a few seconds until I found out that I had to get up before dawn to feed them.
It is now a long time since my teenage years and since then I have come across a number of stories of women in the bible that I can really appreciate and identify with. One that springs to mind is that of the woman caught in adultery, who was dragged in front of Jesus by the Pharisees for judgment. So that has got your thoughts going now with questions of my past! Please don't misunderstand me here. I am not saying that I can identify with her adulterous behaviour, but hopefully by the end of this article you will understand what I recognize as the value of this story for me.
The bible does not even tell us the name of this woman. Her character is ancillary to the main story and yet well worth exploring. She only has one speaking line. In fact the whole story tells us more about others than it does about her.
Follow the story through with me; it is only a few verses. John 8:1-11
(Verse 1-2) But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery.
We do not know the circumstances surrounding this occurrence but we may speculate that it was contrived by the Pharisees in order to provide a problematic situation to bring before Jesus. These men certainly were not concerned with confidentiality or in dealing with the matter in a discreet manner. They had another agenda altogether. The whole issue was raised in front of a crowd of onlookers, and we know that Jesus could draw a considerable crowd. They could have raised the issue with Jesus discretely if they were really serious about finding out His opinion, but by dragging this errant woman in front of the crowd it provided a far more spectacular ambush. These Pharisee guys really come across as the tabloid journalists of bible times. Anything goes, for a sensational story.
(Verse 3) They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?"
Now it takes two to tango, for this act, so I think that a legitimate question to ask, at this point in time, would be regarding the whereabouts of the man involved. This is an act that she could not be guilty of on her own but we see no reference to his presence. Was he possibly part of the Pharisees 'old boys club' and thus entitled to protection by them?
The woman offers no protest of innocence, words of defence, nor does she utter a cry for mercy. Perhaps she had been tricked into the situation and really thought that she was in love. If so, she had certainly been deserted by her lover now. Possibly she had been a willing participant in exchange for some form of remuneration. We don't know, but whatever the extenuating circumstances and whatever her motivation, she was in a mountain of trouble now. In the eyes of the Jews, adultery was right up there on the hierarchy of worst sins, with a considerably severe punishment attached. I can't imagine that stoning would be a particularly pleasant way to go.
(Verse 6) They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
The woman was caught in the middle of what I would call 'boys games'. She was being used to score points in their devious scheme. That was all she was worth to them, bait for trapping Jesus. Her situation was being used to trip Jesus up with his own words. (In my opinion, the way that the Pharisees were exploiting this woman and her circumstances for their own ends, was as much a crime as the act for which she was being accused.)
If Jesus ruled to pardon the woman, He would be going against the teachings of Moses. If he directed that the woman be put to death, He would find himself in trouble with the Romans as the Jews were not permitted to carry out death penalties. The Pharisees really thought that they had Jesus between a rock and a hard place with this one.
What was Jesus to do with her? Jesus would not play the Pharisee's game. He would not use her situation for mere point scoring.
(Verse 6) But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.
I wonder whether this woman had been dragged before Jesus still in a state of disarray straight from the act for which she was being accused. Can you imagine how she would be feeling right now? Jesus must have been deeply aware of this woman's humiliation. Initially He did not even look her in the eyes. Everyone else was looking at her; she did not need another pair of eyes as witness to her shame. Instead He bent down and started to write in the dust of the ground. By this simple act he diverted the attention of the crowd away from this poor woman who had been left alone cowering before Him. He carried on as if he had not even heard the Pharisees. All eyes were now focused on what Jesus was doing. The ball was now in His court and the crowd was waiting for an answer.
(Verse 7-8) When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
There are various speculations as to what Jesus was writing in the dust. Some believe that he was writing the sins of the very men who had been the woman's accusers but we have not been let in on that little secret either. Perhaps he wrote of the sin of using others for one's own personal gain. If this were to have been the case, He at least had the courtesy, which they had not extended to this woman, of discretion regarding their misdemeanours. No one in the crowd would have seen what Jesus had written. If he had challenged the Pharisees directly and in public on the issue they may have felt the need to retaliate and defend their position, which would only have extended the altercation and made matters worse for the woman caught up in the middle of this performance.
(Verse 9-11) At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
Whatever it was that Jesus did, it certainly got a reaction from the Pharisees. Talk about how to clear a room in one easy lesson!
Then Jesus was free to turn his attention to the woman. This was no guilt trip that he placed on her shoulders. "You are a bad girl." This is no warning of the consequences attached to her behaviour. This was an affirming supportive statement. "There is no one here that condemns you so move on and leave the past behind you."
I presume that the original crowd of people was still present at this stage and I wonder what their reaction was to this whole demonstration that had just unfolded before them. Their reaction and the ending to this story are left for you to imagine and conclude for yourself.
Though this story tells me little about the specific female character in question, it speaks volumes to me about where my relationship with both God and Satan stands. Like the Pharisees, Satan delights in dragging us before God, announcing all the wrongs that we have done, the times when he has laid temptation in our path, and when we have fallen for his tricks. Like as if God does not already know all this, but he drags us there anyway. Our only worth to Satan is to the extent that he can use us to score points against God. Jesus looks on, acutely aware of our shame and regret. He turns to Satan and starts writing his final chapter in the sand. He writes the victory that is God's and the final defeat of Satan forever.
What then is left for the Devil to do but to leave with his tail between his legs? Jesus then turns to us and says, "Satan is finished and done with, so don't you worry about him. With him gone, who else is there to condemn you, because I don't? You are worth so much more than your past, so now lets move on to better things."
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