Readings: 2 Samuel 13:1-20, Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22, Galatians 3:26-29, and John 8:3-11
Let us pray:
Lord, we pray that you would open our hearts to your Word. We pray that we would receive your words and that you would bless our understanding. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. In Your name we pray, Amen.
Before today, we’ve been reading a lot of Sunday school stories: Noah’s ark, Abraham, the 10 commandments. I think even Jesus driving people out of the temple might show up more in Sunday schools than anything we read for today. Who wants to explain adultery to a seven year old, let alone rape?
Look. I know the readings today are uncomfortable. I know. I’ve been sitting with them for the past few weeks as I’ve prepared this sermon. They’re all about stuff that no one wants to talk about. But God is in all of those uncomfortable, horror-filled places. God has something to say about them, too. And God has something to say to us, in a time when we as a society have been in a furor about sexual harassment and rape for months now. Let’s step in, and give each other grace. And if anyone needs to leave, please feel free. Take care of yourself.
So. Our first reading is the story of Tamar, the daughter of David. And it’s the story of David’s first-born son, Amnon, who grows obsessed with Tamar and her beauty, who is so filled with desire and lust for her that he makes himself ill. This is a king’s son, after all, the son who is first in line for the throne. He is used to getting what he wants.
And eventually his friend Jonadab gives him a plan, and so he pretends to be ill until his father comes to check on him; he asks for Tamar to come and cook for him; he watches her cook, and just seeing her was not enough for him. He sends his servants away, until he and Tamar are alone.
Despite her protests–Amnon rapes Tamar.
Then she’s not so fascinating. Then he throws her out, has his servants throw her into the street. Then he shuts her out of his mind and gets her out of his sight. By doing so, he has condemned her to a life of isolation and grief. She can never marry, never again receive the honor of a virgin, never again return to her life of riches. She tears her clothes as she leaves, she cries out in sorrow, she puts ashes on her head–she mourns, in other words, for what her half-brother has done to her.
And when she meets her brother Absalom on the streets, he tells her to be silent. He tells her that she shouldn’t be so upset.
When her father David hears, he does nothing.
Tamar is lusted after, abused, and then silenced and tucked away and punished for something that wasn’t her fault. We hear nothing else about her in the story of Scripture.
Centuries later, Jesus is teaching in the Temple. He has been there for a while. The scribes and the Pharisees and everyone else who wants Jesus gone, who have been plotting against him, are there. They know that Jesus is there. They have already tried to arrest Jesus, but those sent refused to do it. They have all seen how the crowds react to him, how they are fascinated by Him.
So they decide to try something else.
They come to the Temple with a woman, a woman who has been caught in adultery. The man she was with is nowhere to be seen; he was apparently unimportant, although the law the scribes are so eager to refer to said that he should die as well. They drag this woman to the Temple and parade her before Jesus. They tell her what she has done. They demand Jesus tell them what they should do, when the law is quite clear that she should be stoned.
They don’t care about her. They don’t care about the sin she has committed, about the law or about her. She is only a tool, a thing to get them to their goal: trapping Jesus, tricking Him into saying something that will justify their rabid desire to have him arrested.
They are willing to kill a woman just to have trap Jesus.
Women have always been used and abused. There’s nothing new about that–”there is nothing new under the sun,” after all (Ecclesiastes 1:9). It’s still happening today; we’re still trying to figure out what to do about it. Improvements and strides forward don’t change that fact. Women are still raped and abused and used.
In many ways these facts of life aren’t condemned by the world around us: we wonder obsessively if the woman is telling the truth, we hide or ignore the abusive relationships around us.
But God is having none of it.
Jesus sees what the scribes and Pharisees are trying to do. He sees that they aren’t concerned with the woman at all, aren’t concerned with sin at all. They want only to trap Him. And so He turns the question back on them: “Let anyone who is without sin throw the first stone.” And something about this challenge has them skulking away, one by one.
Jesus doesn’t ignore the woman’s sin; His last words to her are “Do not sin again.” But before that, He rips apart all the ways that those men wanted to use her; He sends the Pharisees away, their hypocrisy and selfishness on full display.
Jesus’ life is full of times like these, where He sees women and talks with them, conventions thrown to the wind. He tells His message to the Samaritan woman by the well; He heals women with strange diseases, and sends away their demons. He allows women to follow Him, to learn from Him, in a time when women were not allowed to be disciples. Women are the first to hear the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.
And women filled the early church; Paul writes of respected apostles like Junia and Priscilla, women who had hosted him and worked beside him. Lydia and Chloe supported the church. And so Paul could write, “there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Women are welcomed into this new family that Christ is creating, a family that is a hodgepodge of people from all over, people who are of every race and nationality, class and gender. God welcomes them all. God sees them all, sees their beauty and created each of them with intention and care.
Women have always been welcome in God’s family. So often we block their way, tell them they’re not enough or too much. But, women: God welcomes you, just as you are, in all of your mistakes and strength and weaknesses. God invites us in, and heals us, and then gives us great things to do.
We are all welcome, women and men. Let us take hold of that truth, and let us be careful to welcome others as God has welcomed us.