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The Irish referendum and adultery

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the centre they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bowed down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bowed down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman still in the centre.  Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8: 2-11

Ireland, unlike the UK and Jersey, has a written constitution. Article 41 of that constitution contains this and other statements: The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible [i.e. not able to be prescribed – not able to be set out in writing] rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law. This statement acknowledged the basic Judeo-Christian, Biblical position: marriage is ordained by God.

But the Article as a whole was seen as an impediment to same-sex marriage and is now to be altered by adding this new clause: Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.

‘Liberty is turned to licence by self.’ (Walter Chantry)

What has that got to do with the incident in bold above in the life of Jesus as recorded by his eye-witness disciple John?

The result of the Irish referendum was 62% in favour of the new clause. No doubt many Irish voters were in favour of this measure because a liberal life-style (in these areas) is today’s culture. This has extended into the area of adultery with websites devoted to assisting folk to achieve that, despite the terrible pain it often causes..

Take a look therefore at the AD 30 incident again. I’ve underlined the body language of Jesus which John took such great care to record. First, Jesus sat down as he taught in the Temple. Then the adulterous woman is brought in and he is asked to judge and punish her. He then bowed down and wrote on the ground. Then he stood up. Then he bowed down again, wrote on the ground again and waited. Finally he stood up.

Could it be that Jesus was bowing down and writing so as to remind the scribes and Pharisees of the Ten Commandments written on stone and given by God to their predecessors? These included, “You shall not commit adultery.” Jesus bowed to those Ten Commandments. But please note that he stood to require that any scribe or Pharisee who wanted to cast a stone at this woman must have kept them all perfectly. A judge must keep all the law.

‘Those are the best prepared for the greatest mercies who see themselves unworthy of the least.’ (Matthew Henry, Bible commentator, 1662-1714)

After they had all departed, he stood to give to the woman his own mercy from above. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

Maybe you have still missed something very obvious in all this. It was the religious “righteous” who had, in their hearts and minds, judged and condemned the woman. It was those who presented themselves as morally upright who wanted to judge and condemn. Jesus would have none of it.

But he didn’t change the Ten Commandments. Instead he bowed to their justice - and to their beneficial effects for all human beings. He insisted that they be kept totally and perfectly by those who, in their moral uprightness, wanted to condemn others.

Mercy – the mercy that Jesus came to obtain through his cross for sinners – does not do away with God’s law, does not alter it. The Ten Commandments continue unchanged – including “You shall not commit adultery.”

Those who claimed to be without sin did not stay to ask for mercy. They did not receive it. The woman who did stay was asked, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” Wonderfully she replied, “No one, Lord.” 

Did you notice the title she gave to Jesus? “Lord.” She could imagine no one better to become her lord. Mercy triumphs over justice. It triumphs over law.

Richard Syvret

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