Sermon at the Yogyakarta International Congregation
Sunday, 20 January 2013 at 5.00 pm
Reading: John 8:1-11
Theme: Calling for Empowering Others
I would like to start this reflection with some short-stories I got from media news. Recently I have read mostly news on women.
In Aceh (North Sumatra), there are controversies against mayor of Lhokseumawe who just released regulation prohibiting women straddle while back-ride on motorcycle. This regulation then is supported by Islamic Leader Council in Aceh by referring it to some Quranic verses. I have no clearly reason on such a regulation. Certainly, the regulation provokes debates among Muslims, specifically women Muslims either in Aceh or other places in Indonesia. Some says that straddle position more safety for women who often back-ride on motorcycle.
In Garut (one district of West Java), the new elected regent marry a teen girl (around 18 years old) only for two days and divorced her by reason she is not a virgin. Ridiculous, isn’t it? But it happened there. Then it also emerges controversies among communities in Garut as well as other places in Indonesia. The local parliamentary of Garut even calls for impeachment and bring the case into the court.
In Jakarta, there was a judge claims women “enjoy being raped” as a joke while being interviewed for the Supreme Court job. He was responding question about what he will do to solve some recently domestic violence toward women and telling such a sick joke. Though later on he conveyed an apology for his statement but unavoidable it reflects publicly the basic mind of him about women.
Those three stories immediately raise crucial question: what is wrong with women? Or better I must change the question: what is wrong with men who see women through such a perspective? I have to tell you it is not easy to answer and perhaps needs time to give an explanation on it. However, in short, I tell you that throughout human history there is stereotype and prejudice which being labeled into women’s identity almost in every society of the world.
Brothers and sisters,
Our biblical reading today speaks about the sociological tendency to place women as “sinner” or, worse, as a lower human species below men. As consequence, in many societies time after time women becomes victim of structural marginalization, cultural oppression and domestic violence conducting by men surround their life. In work places, schools, markets, public spaces, political affairs, business, religions, even family.
As we just read here. A group of Jewish religious leaders came to Jesus while he taught people in the temple courts. They dragged a woman accused for adultery. John says no evidence in detail but they did. John mentions that it was conducted deliberately as a trap for accusing Jesus by asking question about legal statements in religious rules for that case (v. 6). Thus, whether or not she did adultery, they regarded the woman as symbol of sin which must be cleaned or eliminated by implementing Jewish religious rules, that is, stoning to death. No information at all about her man-partner who did it with her and being accused as adultery by the religious leaders. He was free even though they knew he has to responsible for what he did with the woman. Hence the woman was victim of man’s power.
Our biblical reading today clearly demonstrates a depiction of human situation that there are always marginalized and victimized groups within almost every society. They have been scapegoat amid those who are fighting for power of politic, economic, ideology and religion as well. And we know that generally women and children are the most vulnerable social group whose high-risk treatment on violence and discrimination in patriarchal social system where men perform themselves as powerful one so that feeling able to do everything for their vested interests.
Jesus realized that situation. He had in mind that the woman is simply a victim of desire for power by Jewish religious leaders to trap him and accused him for violating religious rules, and finally wants to kick Jesus out from the region or send him into jail. They regarded that Jesus was unsettling their authority especially in religious affairs. It could be understood because the Roman colonial government at that time only gave them limited authority in religious affairs. Hebrew people (or now we call them as Jew) at that time had no self- determination in many aspects of life but religious one. So, when the religious leaders saw that Jesus’ teaching attracted many followers among Hebrew people, they had feeling threatened.
Jesus firstly ignored their question about the content of religious rules. Jesus instead bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger (v. 6). Do you know what Jesus wrote about? Me either. John did not give such information as well. I was searching for it in many theological books and articles but nothing. Of course, it is hard to find it but I guess Jesus wrote the formula of religious code they referred but they did not read it. Because the religious leaders were busy to think about strategy against Jesus. They politicized religious rules for the sake of their vested interests and ignored the basic function of the religious rules as the expression of interrelationship between God and human being by doing something good or helping others who need it. They only perceived religious rules as guidance to determine “good guys” and “bad guys”. That’s all.
Jesus avoided such useless debate and trying to move forward into the fundamental idea behind the rules, that is, human essence of the victimized woman. Through this story, John demonstrates that Jesus realized that every human being ever did something bad/wrong in his/her life. But at the same time every human being also had new opportunities to repent by bringing his/her life back to the principle of truth in God. What is the principle of truth in our Christian faith? God is Love! That is why then Jesus said, “If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7).
Human being is not a thing. God create us human being as the image of God (imago Dei). We have an important value in ourselves before God. As the image of God, God give human being divine quality. God does not only with us but God live within us; energizing our life with the Divine Spirit which make us able to respect the beauty of our life and to perceive amazing grace surrounding our daily life both as women and men. Jesus criticized the religious leaders who used religious rules precisely to spoil the meaning of human being as imago Dei and had tendency to treat human being as if a death thing.
After heard Jesus’ saying, they began to go away one at a time and left Jesus and the woman alone. Then Jesus said to her that he will not condemn her as well. There are two important aspects here:
First, Jesus was healing the woman’s dignity as personal and social being. Looking herself as being contemptible and marginalized, she felt have more self-esteem and equal to others since Jesus perceived herself as she was. Her dignity was healed so that she could live her life as the authentic human being. Jesus was empowering her by giving new opportunity to live her life differently than her previous life. She was guided by her experience of encounter Jesus to discover imago Dei, the divine quality, in herself as a woman.
Second, as a Jew Jesus gave his high respect to Jewish religious rules and tradition. He understood them very well. However, Jesus will place the rules by showing its function for humanity namely for strengthening human dignity. Religious rules were not created to oppress the weak and powerless others; even essentially not to marginalize humanity. Religious rules and tradition principally function to make order of human-human and human-God relationships. Through this order human being may enjoy his/her life as the ultimate grace by God.
The important lesson today we had from John chapter 8 verses 1 to 11 is that we more and more conscious that every human being have the divine quality within. This lesson, therefore, calls us to respect ourselves and others, our life and others’ life as well, as an invitation to demonstrate the imago Dei for the sake of togetherness among human being on earth. By respect to our own life, reflection on John 8:1-11 also calls us for giving concern on other people’s suffering, especially those who are in oppression, discrimination, and violence. We can start from our family, relatives, and closer neighborhood, then gradually to bigger community. This is our Christian mission today.
Christians as Church of Jesus Christ today have a great mission base on our faith in the salvific mission of Christ, not to judge others, but to heal the weak, to advocate the oppressed, to accompany and to empower the marginalized one. The woman in John’s story becomes a symbol of the victim of social oppression and discrimination. Jesus deliberately took side on her. Our biblical reading today tells also about God’s calling and an example for us to be brave community of Christ who take risk for empowering others who slump into hopelessness. It is an imperative commitment for Christians! Amen.