One of the ugliest sides of religion is when it uses people. Religion does this. It pits people against each other in some cosmic game of “who is closer to God.” We toot our own horns and then shoot pot-shots into other people.
In today’s reading, the religious people in the story drag a woman likely straight from the bedroom where she had been caught in adultery. John even says, “they stood her out in the middle” of the crowd, before Jesus and asked him what should be done with her (8:3). Are they really concerned with her sin? Only mildly at best. Are they really seeking justice? Then where is the man she was with? No, John makes it clear what they were doing:
They said this to test him, so that they could frame a charge against him. (8:6)
This woman is nothing more than a disgraced pawn caught in a desperate powerplay of the Pharisees. She is just a platform on which to make their point that Law is to be followed. She represents no more than an opportunity. She is the faceless, story-less example of a moral issue. This woman who had allowed herself to be used by a man for his passion is now being used by a whole cadre of men for their agenda of power. The Pharisees are using this woman, in the name of religion. Her sin was not excusable — and Jesus didn’t ignore it either (8:11b) — but she was still a human being.
When have we allowed our religious agendas to use people? When has a person’s life become little more than a point in an argument or a story in a sermon? When do we only see the immoral actions of people and fail to see the person doing the action? Are there people who if they ceased to exist it would be fine with us? Are there whole groups of people we easily write off with racial, religious, socio-economic, or political labels, caring less about their personal narratives?
Is there a way to follow our Master by seeing a person in need, not approving of their sin but also not condemning and dehumanizing them?