Friday, March 11, 2016

Homily: "I Am Doing Something New" by Rev Dr. Judy Lee RCWP

Did you ever wonder where the man who was also caught in the act of committing adultery was when the religious leaders of Jesus’ time hauled the woman off to Jesus to trap him in his knowledge of the law? The Law is pretty clear (In Leviticus 20 and Deuteronomy 22-24), that most instances of adultery demand a strong response to both the man and the woman.  Could this have been the rare case where only the woman was to be punished,that is killed, or were the leaders remiss in their own understanding of the law? Or, most likely, could it be that in their patriarchal society that women were punished much more than men, no matter what the Law said or intended? That is truly the case in many societies today as the recent documentary short “A Girl In The River: The Price of Forgiveness”, Oscar winning Short film by Pakistani producer Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, demonstrates. I will comment on this excellent film in a moment.
For this 5th Sunday in Lent we see the religious establishment of Jesus’ time enforcing laws on sexual behavior and trying to trap Jesus in his understanding of the Law  (John 8:1-11). We see a woman “caught in adultery” brought before Jesus and a community armed culturally and religiously to stone her. Now,  There is something wrong with law when it does not provide justice and there is something wrong with those who enforce laws when they act unjustly. The plaintive cry”black lives matter” addresses a level of  that injustice in the USA. It is the job of the prophet to call us on it when either of these things happen. According to the prophet Isaiah, in the first reading, God is asking God’s people not to dwell in the past but to see that God is “doing something new”!( Isaiah 43:16-21). And, what we see in today’s Gospel Jesus is doing something new.  If one reads Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22-24 we see the complexity of theTorah/Halakah on matters of sexual behavior and infidelity. While the law is clearly stacked against the woman in this patriarchy there is some sense of fairness. In most cases both the man and women are to be punished. Yet, in this event only the woman is brought before Jesus.  The religious leaders are angry at Jesus for doing something new-in this case, for being inclusive of women in his ministry and in his healing and teachings. Not only did they blame Jesus for hanging out with sinners and even hated tax collectors, but for hanging out with lowly women as well! Luke 8:1-3 names several women who followed Jesus along with the male disciples,including Mary of Magdala who was the first to see Jesus after his resurrection, and to tell of his resurrection thereby becoming the apostle to the apostles. The meaning of this Gospel is, as Rev. Beverly Bingle  so wisely,says beyond adultery to learning how to judge, but it is also about the injustice toward women perpetuated by both the Law and society that Jesus, in his every action prophetically exposed,challenged and and changed. He allowed Mary to anoint his feet, that is to actually touch him,(it was forbidden to women to touch a man and a rabbi at that), he healed a woman with endless menstrual flow(“ritually unclean”), talked with a Samaritan woman who then preached the good news, and he was friends with Mary and Martha and Mary of Magdala among others. I bet the religious leaders very much wanted to get him to participate in the stoning of a woman!!! This would help put women back in their place, and it would make a teacher of nonviolence participate in violence at the same time. They thought they really had him this time! And yet he would remind them of the spirit of the Law, of the Torah, with its fair, though by our standards, harsh, intent. “Let the one among you  who has not sinned, cast the first stone!” Some of the ancient manuscripts said that what Jesus wrote on the ground was the sins of each one there who held a stone.  There was no one left to condemn her and, advising her not to sin again, he did not condemn her. She was free. what an upset to the world that was so eager to stone her.
In the Oscar winning  Documentary “A Girl in the River:The Price of Forgiveness”, a young Pakistani girl named Saba, from a small village runs away to marry a young man that she loves. As only the father is to arrange marriages, this girl has broken the law (both Quranic and local) and has sinned big time. It is noted that the Quran has many more complexities and fair intents than the local law. The family and the village justifies the father and brother killing the girl and dumping her in the river. (Every year over a thousand girls in Pakistan are killed for the honor of the family when they refuse the marriage contracts the father wants to arrange).  Miraculously, however, Saba, though scarred, lives and is able to start a life with her husband and her in-laws. The father and brother are jailed but to get them out with no further punishment and to make peace between the families the girl is asked by village elders (all male) and both families to forgive them.  She is initially advised by lawyers who believe in justice for women and want then punished. But her lawyer is changed by the elders.  She is pressured on all sides to forgive them and does so with words but not within her heart. Injustice, letting the men and the society off “Scot-free”  is seen as the price of forgiveness although reconciliation with her mother is a precious gain for her especially as she expects her first child. She bravely hopes it is a girl who will be able to be free. This moving and insightful expose of today’s injustice to women under religious and societal laws was well deserving af an award. But it leaves us with questions about the meaning of forgiveness and the place of women all over the world in the 21st Century. The story of Malala Yousefi , the girl who was shot for championing education for girls is another case in point. Malala, Saba and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy are prophets in their own time. The courage they display is amazing. Even as the courage Jesus displayed in taking on the religious and political establishments of his time was amazing and indeed dangerous. Thank God for doing something new -something that sorely needs to be done. Thank God for Jesus who treated women equally as his friends and followers.  Thank God for showing us the path to justice, compassion and mercy. May we, including our religious establishments, try harder to live it.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee,RCWP

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