Woman, where are they? 5th Sunday Lent

The moment when this story ends is one of my favorites in all of Scripture! The reason why is pretty well summed up by the question Jesus asks her.

“Woman, where are they?”

Where is who? For starters, where are all the people who were ready to stone her a minute ago? How easily Jesus has dispatched them! And how delightful it is to see them slink off. They’re easy to hate, aren’t they? You know the type, we all know these people. Those judgmental hypocrites who are so eager to gang up on a scapegoat when they’re just sinners themselves…

…oh, wait. There I am doing it, standing in hypocritical judgment of these people when I’ve done the same thing. I’ve judged. I’ve scapegoated. Have you? Have you, just for example, self-righteously judged people for being self-righteously judgmental? I’ve done that. How’s that for irony?

But Jesus unmasks that with a simple question and at least give them this: they get it. They drop the stones and walk away. In her worst moment, she had a crowd of judging spectators. The next moment is her best, the best of her life, and… “Woman, where are they?” They were using her as just a tool to trap Jesus. It’s bad enough they were humiliating her in her worst moment, but they care about her so little that even this isn’t really about her. They hauled her up to the Temple where Christ was, just to make her Exhibit A in their little challenge. To them, she’s a prop in their story. That’s maybe the ugliest part of this ugly scene. They barely see her at all, and to the extent they do, they only see her sin and how she might be used.

There will be people like this in your life. This same crowd will be around you when you’re at your worst and ashamed of what you’ve done and who you may have become, or who you’ve been. Maybe people in your life will insist on defining you by your sins. Maybe sometimes it’s a crowd of internal voices, the accusers planted by your own mind or planted by the devil, telling you that your sin defines you. The past you want to leave behind, forget it — that’s who you are and that’s who you’ll always be. So say the accusers, the ones outside and the ones inside. They are persistent and they can be so very convincing — but they’re wrong. They don’t love you. They don’t even see you.

Jesus Christ gets rid of them. That’s important to know when you find yourself on the ground being pointed at and feeling worthless. He silences the accusers and meets her face to face, just the two of them, and this is the moment that means everything. Everyone has gone and He’s looking at her, and you just know she had to meet His eyes and recognize that here was someone who was finally seeing her.  “Woman, where are they?”

John Martin Borg, Woman Caught in Adultery

There’s someone else conspicuously absent. Where is whoever she was committing adultery with? Now there’s a good question. She was caught in the act of adultery. I guess he got away? Or he had the right ‘connections’? Or they only thought the woman needed to be humiliated?

Whatever the reason he was able to escape, it shouldn’t have mattered, because why didn’t he stick by her side? She ought to have at least one ally on the scene, but she’s alone now, and there’s nothing at all surprising about that. I’ll bet he told her he loved her. He may even have believed it was the truth. It wasn’t; he didn’t. You can’t love someone by making them an adulterer. It’s simply not possible to say, “I love you, let’s go to hell together,” No, whatever he thought he was doing, he was using her. And she was using him. Maybe they agreed to use each other; that’s a common enough arrangement. Or maybe they believed it was something beautiful and loving. It wasn’t.

He should have loved her, which is to say he should have rather died than lead her into sin. Having failed at that, he should have rather died than leave her to face this humiliation alone. He should be fighting for her right now. But he did leave her alone. "Woman, where is he?" He saved himself from humiliation and death, and he left her alone.

Well. She was alone even when she was with him; she knows that now if she didn’t before. She also knows she isn't alone any more. When everyone else has gone, she is seen, and she is loved, by God.

This story is not really over when they've walked away. These accusers and the evil one they serve, they will have their scapegoat; someone is going to bleed. When the time comes, we will see what real love can do. He’d rather die than leave her alone.


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