HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Another year down in the books! As we enter into another rotation around the sun, I pray that you are blessed. I pray that in this time of newness you are met with opportunities of good change. May God reveal clear paths that guide you to a better you. This is my prayer for you as well as myself.
In this new year, I hope to set more attainable goals for myself. Even in the midst of the naysayers spouting off the statistics of people's failure in their New Year’s Resolutions within the first month, I’m compelled to challenge myself even if I’m statistically destined to fail. Because what is worse than failure? Not even trying in the first place.
First off, I’d like to set the goal of writing one of these posts… sermons? lessons? teachings? or whatever you want to call them, once a month. I started this journey over a year ago and started off way too hot and heavy (like two squirrels making whoopie in a wool sock outside in Florida). I got caught up in the excitement by writing one of these and posting them every Sunday morning. It was a rush and I loved reading the feedback of those following this experiment. But that schedule quickly got overwhelming and I fell off after two months. But I’ve missed it too much. So here I am declaring my New Year’s Resolution to writing one of these once a month and putting it out on the first Sunday. I’m hopeful this goal is much more attainable than my last go at this. But that isn’t my only goal, I do have one more and maybe you can join me in this goal.
I want to be more like Jesus.
Okay, I know… that could mean so many different things and go in so many different directions. Let's not get over-ambitious again and instead, focus on one story of Jesus that shines a light on who he is and how I can aspire to be more like him in this new year.
The story I’m referring to is known as The Woman Caught In Adultery from John 8:1-11. In this story we find Jesus at the Mount of Olives teaching in the Temple as the sun is coming up. While he was teaching a crowd of people, a group of teachers of the law and some Pharisees brought a woman to the front of the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
Woah! That just escalated quickly. Let’s pause for a second and simply recognize the situation these teachers of the law have presented.
For the Pharisees, stoning is nothing out of the ordinary. It is clearly stated in the law of Moses to stone this woman for her crime, "If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the man and the woman who have committed adultery must be put to death" (Leviticus 20:10). They've been practicing this law for generations. They know the letter of the law and I think it is safe to say that the woman, most likely, knew the risks of her adulterous activities (Now... at the same time, we're not taking into consideration how her social status of being equivalent to livestock affects her decision making process, but that is for another post in the future). While stoning her may sound a bit extreme to us today in a Western context, we wouldn’t bat an eye for someone getting a speeding ticket for going 15 mph over the speed limit. We don’t question when someone walks away in handcuffs after robbing the gas station down the block. These are the consequences for the actions chosen. Stoning adulterers was a common practice for ancient Israelites following the Law in the Torah.
But let's not pretend that this is all about upholding law & order. After they ask Jesus this, it's revealed they are not solely there to hold this woman accountable for her action. More importantly, they want to catch Jesus publicly saying something in response that will allow them to arrest him.
They have had enough of Jesus’ “bullshit.”
They’ve heard all the rumors spreading around that he may be the Son of God. They have heard of his preaching, healing, and miracles all around Israel. They are sick of it and are trying their best to catch Jesus saying something that might contradict the the law of Moses that they’ve been living under for 1,300 years, ever since the Israelites escaped from Egypt with Moses leading the way. They’ve used this woman to try and catch Jesus.
Can we even begin to imagine where this woman might be mentally? She has been caught red-handed in a crime that is punishable by death. A death by stoning! How brutal? And she knows that fate is quickly coming over the horizon. Not only is she having to process the end of her existence quickly approaching, she has been carted out in front of a crowd to have her secret displayed for an entire crowd potentially filled with friends, family, and familiar community members. And her imminent stoning isn’t even completely about her. It is about these religious pricks trying to make a point so they can take care of their nuisance, Jesus.
Have you ever had a secret revealed in a public manner? Have you ever had something intimate shared with others you never intended?
Professional storyteller, David Crabb, tells a story, on the Risk! podcast, of when he was put into a position of caring for a stranger’s secret. A secret that had the potential to condemn this stranger, not to literal death, but a death-like experience. His story comes from his early years working in a record shop. But his main task was not selling records, he was in charge of stocking the magazine shelves with porn. A job that seems like ancient practice in this internet age.
This job came with its fair share of combating shoplifting. Not only the porn magazines, but CDs, DVDs and the like. David seems pretty nonchalant about catching shoplifters though. He described shoplifters being brought into the back, given an empty threat by the manager to call the police, and sent away to never return to the store again. Until one day the alarm goes off and the manager brings back a young man.
In the back, David is prepping the porn magazines, placing security stickers inside the pages soon to be put out on the shelves. The door to the store swings open and in walks the manager with his culprit, a young Hispanic man about 14 years old. When asked what he has stolen, he pulls out of his pants a gay porn magazine titled 9 Inch Males.
Now I’ve gotta hand it to porn marketing teams, they always come up with the best puns for their titles!
The manager continues to question the young man, to find out his name is Jorge and he is there with his grandma. The manager tells the young man that since he is a minor he isn’t going to call the police, but he is going to go get his grandmother. As the manager leaves and David is left alone with Jorge, he looks at David with tears dripping down his face and says, “help me,” before running off and locking himself in the staff bathroom. David has been put into a delicate situation he never anticipated. Not only has Jorge been caught stealing a porn magazine, but a gay porn magazine. At this point in the story, David takes a moment to reflect on his own coming out story. Unfortunately, David did not have the luxury of coming out on his own terms.
Now, I cannot speak with any first-hand experience of coming out. I can only speak to what I’ve learned while listening to queer people share their stories. If I misspeak or portray this experience incorrectly in any way, please share your thoughts with me at email@example.com. I strive to always be learning, growing, and listening to life-experiences unlike my own.
From what I have learned, being outed by anyone but yourself can be a devastating experience, especially if it happens in a hostile environment. All too often, coming out can be a destructive and traumatizing experience when the reactions of those hearing this news are resistant and/or dismissive. But on the flip side, coming out can also be a liberating and transformative process when done under the terms and timeline of the person coming out. It can be a moment when an individual can finally come to peace with who they are and express it out loud, now leaving their delicate, yet true self in the hands of those who they've shared with for the first time. Coming out is a complicated mess of variables that all depend on the level of compassion from others receiving new information. David recognizes the delicate situation he has been put in with Jorge potentially being outed to his grandmother by the gay porn magazine he has been caught with.
These are the moments in this new year I can strive to be more Christ-like.
Jesus, with his godly-sized set of balls, calls the Pharisees on their own bullshit at the end of our story. He quietly gets down low and starts to write in the dust. I wish we knew what Jesus wrote down here because the reaction seems to be nothing shy of an epic mic drop. Maybe he wrote some pertinent scripture to rise to this occasion. Or maybe he wrote something to describe who this woman is. I like to imagine him calmly writing down the sin of each Pharisee present, calling for this woman’s murder. The fact is, we don’t know what Jesus wrote, but once he is done he looks to them and says, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” and goes back to writing in the dust. One by one the Pharisees walk away, leaving Jesus alone in the crowd with the woman accused.
Jesus looks at her and says, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” She replies, “No, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11)
This right here is where I think Jesus does his best work. Jesus is presented with an “easy” situation. The law is spelled out, the next steps are simple and in a sense, righteous. But Jesus sees something I believe gets left out of your typical sermon or interpretation around texts like this. Jesus sees her humanity. He sees her for the messed up, beautiful, confusing, spectacular, conflicting, God created human being she is. He does not define her by her sins, mistakes, or criminal record. She is so much more than that. I believe Christ, being the Son of God, recognizes, with crystal clear clarity, why she is in the position she has found herself in.
I think it is easy to condemn her when she broke the law, but I’d argue it is much harder to see her as Jesus did. While we can blame this on scripture for the lack of details, we can also push ourselves to wonder. What could lead a woman in her time to commit adultery when the punishment is as drastic as death? Maybe she had no choice for any number of reasons. I mean, women back then were only equal to the livestock, traded for cattle in marriage being passed from one man to the next. Maybe she was under the instruction of an authority figure she had no choice in. Or maybe she got wrapped up in too much debt and couldn’t see any way out but to commit adultery to ultimately provide for her family. What if she finally had the opportunity to fuck someone she truly loved for the first time and not who her dad cut a deal with when she was thirteen? Again, we can only wonder because scripture doesn’t say why she did what she did. But we do see Jesus force the Pharisees to see themselves in her and then refuse to condemn her even if the lawful thing to do is stone her to death. How can we reflect that?
I believe David was this reflection of Christ for Jorge that fateful day in the back of a record shop with 9 Inch Males lying on the table.
Without anyone noticing, including Jorge, David swapped out the 9 Inch Males magazine on the table with a typical Playboy magazine. When the manager came back with Jorge’s grandma, she grabbed the magazine and yelled at Jorge, “Why do you steal Playboy magazine!?” Jorge looks up and, to his amazement, the magazines have been swapped. Jorge's face slowly transforms to a grin of relief. This only angers the grandmother and Jorge is dragged out of the store. As Jorge is leaving he looks back at David with tears dripping down his face and a big smile. David didn’t save him from the consequences of shoplifting porn, but he did spare him the potential humiliation and maybe even abuse by allowing Jorge to be outed by his own impulsive thievery. Again, we don’t know all the details. But we do see David emulating the insightful grace of Christ.
I think David maybe saw a sliver of himself in Jorge once he saw the fear in that boy’s eyes when he revealed he had stolen not just porn, but gay porn. It would have been easy to see Jorge as the criminal he was and let the law take care of him. Not only the literal law of the store policy on shoplifting, but also of whatever beliefs Jorge’s family had on being gay. David, in a split second decision, saved this kid’s ability to come out on his own terms and have control over his own journey. We don’t know, but if Jorge’s family was any kind of strict conservative Christianity, David may have even gone as far as to save Jorge from things like pray the gay away, conversion therapy, or even Jorge’s own death by suicide. David saw Jorge’s humanity and took action to help a complete stranger in a way that he knew was impactful.
David stood between Jorge and condemnation and said in his own way, “I do not condemn you.”
This is my New Year's resolution. To be more like Jesus. To find meaningful ways I might be able to stand between someone who is guilty of another’s judgment and say, “I do not condemn you.” I don’t fully know what that might look like for me. I hope to keep my eyes open enough to meet a moment like this and be that reflection of Christ. To recognize someone’s humanity before their mistakes and stand in the way of their condemnation.
Unfortunately, I see most condemnation coming from conservative Christianity these days in the United States. They stick to their perception of the law much more than they allow for grace and forgiveness to permeate our society. They are quick to point fingers and name who they think are guilty. And even as I write this, I recognize I am making similar broad generalizations of conservative Christians. I must recognize it is not all, just where I see it the most.
But I must ask myself, where can I stand between them and those they condemn?
How can I stand between…
People who are gay and conservative Christians to say, “I do not condemn you.”
Sex workers and conservative Christians to say, “I do not condemn you.”
Transgender people and conservative Christians to say, “I do not condemn you.”
Non-monogamous people and conservative Christians to say, “I do not condemn you.”
And please do not mishear me. Jesus’ story and David’s are not a direct one-to-one comparison. I am not saying here that being gay is sinful. I am challenging myself, and maybe you too, to find opportunities where I can 1) help those who condemn others by the law to find themselves in those they condemn in order to bring out compassion and empathy and 2) remind those who are being condemned in our society that they are much more than what others think their failures are and that I, as a reflection of Christ, do not condemn them.
I pray that I am ready for these moments in 2023 and hope that you might be too.
Blessings to you in this new year. May God give you all that you need and know that you are loved.
THANK GOD FOR THE ADULTEROUS WOMAN!
-The Dirty Minister
Risk! Podcast Story told by David Crabb: https://www.risk-show.com/podcast/conflicted
(Story starts at 33:18)