by Jeremiah Bartram on 18/03/10 at 11:09 am
I had a hard time finding a heading for this week’s gospel post, the one about the famous adulteress.
Headings are hard to write. They have to capture a leading idea from the story, preferably the leading idea. They need a certain snap, to catch the prospective reader’s attention. They mustn’t be mere labels – as in, “The woman taken in adultery”. And they can’t be lengthy, for example, “As Joseph saved Jesus’ mother, so Jesus saves the adulterous woman”.
Writers shouldn’t write their own heads, and on newspapers they don’t. We’re too close to the material.
Usually, after agonizing for a while, I give up, choose something practical, and move on.
But this week’s heading, which seemed a bit strange to me even as I chose it, lingered in my imagination.
“She stands alone.”
I liked it. Gradually, a new insight into this anonymous woman began to form.
Sure, you could imagine her in the traditional way, trembling, eyes downcast, partly veiled, full of shame, unable to look at Jesus, or her accusers.
But not “She stands alone.”
There is a hint of defiance, of outraged pride in that phrase: abandoned by her cowardly lover, publicly humiliated by her accusers – who may be lying, as the accusers of the virtuous Susannah were lying in the apocryphal book of that title – she rallies her forces and refuses the path of shame. She looks around with natural ferocity and it is the men who quail before her. They can’t meet her glance.
She knows that she is beautiful and she is confident in her abundant sexuality. She knows that her treatment is unjust; knows that she may die a horrible and undeserved death, on account of male laws created, interpreted and imposed by males; but she does not allow her situation to break her spirit. She makes no attempt to curry favor, or blame others, or weep or protest or cringe or explain.
She stands, bold and unashamed and strangely free.
Like Jesus himself before Pilate, she is silent.
Her episode also stands alone. It does not really belong to any gospel. It feels like something Luke might have written – but someone inserted it into John.
It’s a fragment, an orphan, with a certain independent life of its own, like a grafted branch that continues to bear apples although the tree of which it is now a part yields only pears.
We gays share her outrage and her defiance.
We’re different, by nature. We constitute a third sex. There’s something wonderful about that, because it’s so inventive, so interesting, so imaginative on the part of God.
It’s not surprising that many cultures have seen gayness as a special gift, conveying spiritual powers: two-spirited, like God.
We survive against all odds – and that is mysterious. By the Darwinian laws of natural selection, we should have been extinct thousands of generations ago – since our orientation is fundamentally non-procreative. Why didn’t it just die out, like an unsuccessful mutation?
Yet here we are – and not just in human species: created by God and, I believe, nourished and sustained and protected by God.
In intolerant societies we survive, generation after generation, despite persecution, abuse, denial, campaigns of shame, dirty laws. In tolerant societies we thrive, greatly enriching our host environments (including the church) with our multifaceted talents and surprising insights.
So I can see myself in this woman who stands alone before Jesus.
He writes on the ground. One by one, her accusers slink away, beginning with the eldest, that is, the more venerable among them.
He still writes.
Can she read what he is writing? Maybe he’s not writing these clumsy and imprecise things called words. Maybe he’s capturing the DNA of history in the mathematical language of God.
Then they are alone (where are his disciples? Did they slink away as well?), and he lifts his head, looks up at her – he sitting, she standing.
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
He addressed his mother in the same way, at the wedding at Cana: “Woman” a tone of affection and respect.
“No one, sir,” she says, paying him the deference she shows to no other man.
“Neither do I condemn you.”
He has the power of looking into people’s hearts and intuiting the key realities of their lives – as, in a different story, he knew the marital history of the Samaritan woman at the well.
Whatever this woman’s story, he finds nothing to condemn.
So why would he condemn us, gay people, for being this third sex that God so mysteriously and marvellously created, for no other purpose than his glory?
And having created us, he can’t condemn us for seeking the fulfillment proper to our kind.