Woman taken in adultery's letter to her ex-lover

Saturday, December 30, 2006
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Simeon, I thought you were my friend, my hope, my love. How could I have been so blind?

I must tell you the rest of what has happened. It was terrifying, and yet wonderful! Shall I tell it all? The beginning, of course, you know, until when we were caught and you somehow managed to escape—right through their hands it seems! How you did it, I could not imagine, at least not then. Our whole affair had been too fast, too soon, too rushed, for it to be real. My hurting heart wanted to believe, but now I think I understand.

You abandoned me in bed, uncovered, exposed to them when they rushed in, just after you rushed out. They looked on me with accusing eyes; I saw lustful looks among the poisonous righteous. They refused to let me dress myself, rejected my pleadings for even a robe to thinly disguise my shame. But for the sheet itself, I would have been dragged through Jerusalem with body as bare as my soul.

Where did you put on your tunic, Simeon? Did someone have clothes ready for you around the corner from my house? They appeared to be clean and fresh when I saw you standing with the others before the Teacher. You had even combed your hair and arranged your beard. Yes, I saw you. Did you see me? I could not tell: your eyes never met mine in the circle around the Teacher.

Most of the eternity that I stood before him, clutching the sheet against my chest, I could look at no one. I could only examine the stones—jagged and threatening, clutched in nervous hands—and at the dust swirling around the feet of the mob and the Master. I could not look at him either, could not, that is, until he stooped down, intruding himself into my field of vision. He glanced at me, looked down, and when his gaze returned, he did not look away.

"Well, teacher?" the rabbi demanded. "Moses said she should be stoned, but what do you say?"

I held my breath, listening to my wildly beating heart, wondering how many beats it had left before the end. I waited for him to give them his assent, a gesture, a nod of the head that would be my death warrant. He did not. He only wrote upon the ground with his finger.

The leaders of the crowd pressed him. "Have you nothing to say? Is Moses to be obeyed or not?" The two who held my arms tightened their grip.

Once more the Teacher looked up, first at me, with a tenderness I shall never forget. Then, as his eyes drifted from me to them, that tenderness evaporated in the hot fury that followed. "Let the guiltless be the first to cast a stone at her," he announced. And then the fury subsided as the eyes fell once more to the finger that wrote upon the ground.

I thought at first he was doodling there in the sand at our feet. But then I could see what he wrote. His finger traced the Hebrew letters from first to last: aleph, beth, gimmel, dalet, and the rest, one by one. He had gone about halfway through the alphabet before I realized what was happening: when he traced the initial letter of each man's name, I heard the thud of that man's stone as it dropped from his fingers and hit the ground. One by one, the stones began to fall, and man by man, they all turned and skulked away.

When he got to your letter, the "sin," Simeon, you too dropped your stone and walked away. By the last letter, everyone was gone.

With one sweep of his hand, the Master scattered the alphabet he had written and looked up. "Madam," he asked, "is no one left to bear witness against you?"

"No, sir," I replied. "There is no one." We were quite alone.

That's when he looked at me with those eyes that pierced me and could see me as I really was, heart-sick and lonely, vulnerable to a man like you, Simeon, a man who showed a sudden interest and had a beguiling smile. Those eyes, my heart told me, bore witness to my sin—our sin—and attested to my guilt. I realized with a chilling terror that he himself might provide the condemning testimony. And yet, those same eyes that perceived with such incredible ease my sordid past also gazed at my future, and there they must have seen something quite different.

"Neither will I condemn you," he said with his slow smile. "You are free to go, only... leave your sin behind you."

O Simeon, whom I trusted with my life, my soul! How could you have done this wicked thing? You lured me to my husband's bed. How much did they pay you to entrap me like that? The Master—I know he knows. You cannot hide from his probing, piercing eyes. You are guilty, as guilty as I was. More guilty now, for I have been forgiven.

You entrapped me that you all might entrap him, but both of us are free—he and I—while the trap closes its jaws on you and on them. I can only say to you what he said to me: "Leave your sin behind you." You have dropped the stone from your fingers, but there is a stone where your heart ought to be. That stone is harder to let go of.

I will pray for you, Simeon, now that I am restored. I still love you, though my heart remains deeply wounded because of what you did. I can never talk to you or see you again while you remain stone-hearted. I pray that God can replace that cold stone with a warm heart of flesh, as the prophet Ezekiel promised.

The Teacher is now my Master. That you could wish him dead astonishes me more than that you could wish me dead. How different He is from you! You looked at my body and lusted. He looked at my soul and loved. You wanted me dead. His burning desire was for me to find life, not just escape from my execution, but the full, blessed life He offers to everyone. And to those who accept His offer, He delivers that life.

I wish you life, Simeon. You don't deserve it, but then, neither did I.

You have my love, now more than ever, yet also my pity.


Want to go deeper?

  1. What did Jesus write in the dirt?

    Alexandra's letter is only one suggestion among many. Some say Jesus only doodled in the dirt. Others say he wrote the sins of the accusers, while others suggest he wrote the names of those involved in the entrapment. Since the text doesn't say, there is no way for us to know for sure.

  2. Hearts of stone or flesh?

    Read the amazing and wonderful prophecy of Ezekiel about spiritual heart surgery in Ezekiel 36:24-28.

  3. Concerning the textual problem

    The earliest and most important manuscripts (including, among many others, the Bodmer papyri and codices Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, and Ephaemi Rescriptus) omit the passage that contains the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). Of those that have it, the earliest (Codex Bezae) dates to around the middle of the sixth century.

    Even when the section occurs in its traditional place, manuscripts often feature asterisks or other marks indicating that its authenticity was regarded as doubtful. This does not mean, however, that it is a later scribal addition, for Eusebius says the incident is mentioned by Papias, whose work was adapted at about 130 CE.

    Other manuscripts omit it in its traditional location but have it at the end of John's Gospel, while in others (notably Family 13), it occurs at the end of Luke 21. This placement in Luke is intriguing, for the passage fits the context, style, vocabulary, and theological interests of the Gospel of Luke better than the Fourth Gospel, and its original placement there is perhaps more likely than its tradition position between John 7:52 and 8:12, where it seems to interrupt the flow of the context.

    Regardless of where it should be placed, many scholars have endorsed its historical authenticity. Both the content of the teaching and the action of Jesus are in complete harmony with other like incidents and situations in His life.

    Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.17 (Kirsopp Lake and J. E. L. Oulton, trans. and eds., 2 vols., Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1926 and 1932): 1:298-299.

    McMillan, Earle. "Textual Authority for John 7:53-8:11." Restoration Quarterly 3, 1 (1959):18-22.

    Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. New York: United Bible Societies, 1971. 219-223.

    Salvoni, Fausto. "Textual Authority for John 7:53-8:11." Restoration Quarterly 4, 1 (1960):11-15.

Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com
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The Nativity Story: "The Still, Small Voice"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

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The main message
The Nativity Story is the new cinematic presentation of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus by director Catherine Hardwicke. One scene serves to summarize the overall theme of the movie. Ruth, one of Mary's Nazareth neighbors, tells the village children the story of Elijah's encounter with God as recorded in 1 Kings 19:1-13. God was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but He spoke to Elijah in "a still small voice."

In fulfillment of God's promise to exalt the humble and bring down the exalted, Jesus was not born to the imperial family in the capital city of the empire. He was not even born into the provincial aristocracy of Jerusalem. He was born in tiny Bethlehem to peasant parents from Nazareth, a town so insignificant that it is not even mentioned in the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, Josephus, or rabbinic literature.

Today Nazareth is a thriving city of more than 70,000 (see My Holyland photo). But in the first century it hardly qualified to be a village. Archaeologists have estimated its population at that time to have been about 400, based on the area enclosed by the tombs surrounding it. The Nativity Story's Nazareth is a "podunk"; Nazareth scenes were shot in a small village of Morocco.

Family troubles
The movie also moves us to think about the price Mary and her spouse-to-be Joseph had to pay to serve as mother and foster father of Jesus. The estrangement from their former friends and undercurrent of gossip portrayed in the film nevertheless probably understates the humiliation of their circumstances. Not only was Jesus born to a working-class family; many must have assumed he was an illegitimate "child of fornication."

Huge contrast
Juxtaposed with this portrayal of the anawim, the pious poor, is King Herod, vassal-king of Judea, Perea, and Galilee, incredibly wealthy but spiritually bankrupt. King Herod makes a show of being devoted to Judaism. At the same time, however, he plots to thwart the messianic prophecies by killing the predicted Messiah as soon as he appears. Herod does this in consultation with his son Antipas, intimidating and threatening the young man. Having such a father explains his conduct 30 years later when Herod Antipas executes John the Baptizer and mocks Jesus during His trial.

Is that in the text?
My quibbles with the film mainly involve the Magi, portrayed along traditional lines that include their number (three), their names (Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar), and their races (one is African). Not one of these things is attested by the gospel accounts. Another deviation from the biblical text is their decision not to report to King Herod, uninformed by a heaven-sent dream as in Matthew 2:12.

Also following tradition instead of Scripture, the Magi arrive to pay homage to the Christ child on the night of his birth. This ignores the verse in Matthew that says the holy family was in a house when the wise men arrived (Matthew 2:11). Neither does the escape to Egypt begin on the night of Christ's birth as the movie suggests, for Joseph and Mary had not yet left for Egypt when they circumcised Jesus on his eighth day and then presented Him in the temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth, in keeping with the Law's requirements in Exodus 13 (see Luke 2:21-38). That means the clandestine trip to Egypt could take place no sooner than eight weeks after the Nativity.

Outstanding choices
The Nativity Story is remarkable in its use of music, which includes traditional tunes of the season such as Veni Emmanuel, Carol of the Bells, and Silent Night--some choral and some instrumental--introduced in a tasteful, understated way, and combined with an original score with by Mychael Danna that has a distinctly middle-eastern flavor. You may want to read Jonathan Broxton's more detailed review of the film's music.

Likewise the casting is praiseworthy: with regard to Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes), Joseph (Omar Isaac), King Herod (Claran Hinds), Antipas (Alessandro Giuggioli), and the rest, no one seemed miscast, with the possible exception of Zechariah (Stanley Townsend), who reminded me too much of Fiddler on the Roof's Tevye.

All in all, The Nativity Story is well worth seeing. Unlike most cinematic offerings, it has no sex, no violence, no surprising twists of the plot. In the place of all of these things, it provides an opportunity for spiritual reflection on the meaning of personal sacrifice, consecration despite undeserved criticism, and the divine value system, topsy turvy to that of the world. God chooses not to shout with a giga-boosted megaphone of the Superbowl announcer: "Ladies and gentlemen! Are you ready for some RELIGION? HERE HE IS: YOOOOUUUURRRRR MEHHHH-SIIIII-AAAAHHH!" Instead, He points one star toward a stable, holds a private concert for a few shepherds, and speaks with a still small voice: a neonatal, human voice. "Peace on earth, good will to men," He whispers.

Want to go deeper?
Nazareth – You can explore the official website for the city of Nazareth, which includes a live webcam view of the Church of the Annunciation, a summary of the history and archaeology of the city, and all the touristy things available in Nazareth.

Biblical accounts – The Nativity is reported in Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 1 and 2. You may be surprised to discover that the Magi and escape to Egypt are only in Matthew, while the shepherds are only in Luke. Our traditional presentation is a harmonization of the two.

King Herod – You can read about the ruthlessness of King Herod in all of book one, ¶201 to ¶670 (Whiston: 1.9 - 1.33) of The Jewish War by Josephus. According to Matthew, he died soon after Joseph, Mary, and Jesus escape to Egypt, which would put the birth of Jesus somewhere near the end of book one.

Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com
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