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Gentle Moments 3: Lifting Up


Issue 336

Have you noticed how we humans are fascinated by the downfall of our fellow human beings? – the more famous the individual, the greater the fascination. Whole sections of the press seem almost to be devoted to such stories. Of course, if there is a sexual scandal thisadds to the spice of the story and increases sales, as readers savour the details in the noble guise of ‘the public interest’.

There are times when the press itself attempts to manipulate events by creating a scam or a trap into which some unsuspecting, unwise celebrity will fall, only to discover that he or she has become the victim of some unethical working practice by journalists only interested in circulation.

Whatever the circumstances, when the story breaks, voyeurs, vultures and bystanders congregate to observe, gloat or blog about the downfallen individual.

No one is immune, whether golfer, footballer, president, actor, entertainer or musician; if the story will sell, anyone is considered game for such sport.

So when a group of men throw a woman at the feet of Jesus, she joins the ranks of the exposed, mocked, judged and condemned. She is not famous – except for this incident; we do not even know her name. Although she is neither celebrity, politician or sports star, she shares certain experiences with them which are common to such scenarios.

Firstly, who she really is does not matter to those exposing her. Her feelings, her life, her story is of no value to the posse, except in so much as it may serve their purposes.

It is quite likely that she was set up – the timing of the incident, the fact that she was caught in it,  points, suspiciously, to a scam. In this case she is simply a pawn in the power play constructed by her accusers.

Thirdly, she is not seen as anything other than a lightning rod for the hypocrisies, prejudices and malice in her culture.

The accusers want to make a point to Jesus and trap him. Now a double scam emerges: the woman has been trapped and is now  being used to trap an even bigger catch. If they can get him they have an even bigger story.

No one seems interested in the human dynamic. No one seems to care about anything but making a point. The value of the person has been wiped out of this scenario and only ugly cynicism remains.

Wherever there are people there are downfalls. Our focus is the workplace. Here, as everywhere else, individuals mess up, accidentally, deliberately, or sometimes a bit of each. It is then that  reactions start and the thoughts of hearts are revealed. Various amounts of gossip or venom circulate amongst the group. You may already be thinking of a downfall – corporate, public or social – of which you are aware.

In our biblical incident everyone seemed to miss the people at the centre of the circle; everyone except One. He takes two actions. Firstly he powerfully exposes the scam. By writing in the ground some words which pierce their armour and strip their motives bare, he delivers one of the most explosive challenges to our human delight in downfall. “The one,” he pronounces, “who is without sin can throw the first stone”. They had wanted to trap him by getting him to join in a stoning or, if he refused, to expose him as a flaunter of ancient law.

Instead they find themselves trapped. By making his pronouncement he actually turns them back into human beings. First the old and then the younger realise that we are all people who fall. Far from belittling them he refocuses them onto reality. He could have said “the one who is without greed, or deceit, or lust, or anger can throw the first stone”. Maybe this is what he wrote in the sand – we don’t really know, but his actions remind us that in a second, a heartbeat, a moment, a life – any life – can fall,  and when it does the reaction on our lips should be “there but for the grace of God go I”. This makes us human. As usual all is not what it seems with him – he changes us all back into real people.

Finally we reach the gentle moment at the heart of the story. He is alone with the victim of the scam. You can almost sense that it all quietens down. In a tender dialogue he releases her from condemnation and commissions her to find a better path.

Such gentle moments often occur in the context of conflict, noise and ugliness. Suddenly the Man of God solves the riddle, unpicks the lock and sets the prisoner free. With a gracious hand he lifts up the fallen and restores dignity – actually to all if they will let him.

As she walked away she knew he had saved her life, her reputation and her dignity in one skilful challenging and gentle act;,he always did and always does.


John 8:1-11

1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When 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.” 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At 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. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11“No one, sir,” she said. ”Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

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Series: Gentle Moments
Module: 2
Season: Lent
Daily Guide: No

Tags: behaviour, dignity, entrapment, gossip, hipocrisy, motive, rescue

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Geoff Shattock

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