Friday, August 14, 2015

A Woman Caught In Adultery

I never chose my husband.  I never chose for him to become frail and sick.  I had to do everything for him, bathe him, get him in and out of bed, make dinner for him, do whatever he needed.  Until one day buying cloth, I saw a man in town with a strong, handsome face, a Pharisee respected by everyone.  We exchanged looks, then more.  For weeks no one knew what was happening, not even his wife, a quiet, simple woman whose existence made me feel so guilty.  But soon my husband became suspicious and began to treat me with contempt.  He told everyone who would listen that he knew I had a lover.

One day there was a knock at the door.  I opened it and my heart stopped; all the Pharisees of the town stood before me.  They grabbed me roughly and accused me loudly of adultery so all the neighbors could hear.  He was there too, accusing, as though he had had nothing to do with this sin between us.

They tied my hands and hauled me away.  I was terrified.  Thinking of the stones they were shouting about, and whether it would hurt.  I cried out in terror but someone hit me in the face.

They pushed their way through a crowd that was listening to a religious lesson by a rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth. As soon as they broke through, Jesus stopped teaching.

They threw me on the hard, dusty ground at Jesus' feet and accused me of adultery. I didn’t understand what was happening, why we were stopping here in this crowd.  But nothing made sense to me in that moment, bruised and bleeding, coated with sweat and dirt, watching the man who had loved me join in with the rest, accusing me of sin.

People started shouting accusations and ultimatums at Jesus, (imitates with raised fist) "This woman was caught in adultery!" "What should we do with her?!" "The law says she should be stoned to death." "Are you going to uphold the law or not!" "Answer us!"

I could tell that Jesus was upset with them. But instead of yelling back, Jesus just stooped down and started writing with his finger in the dirt.

At that moment I truly felt the weight of the truth, the weight of my sin, and all the fear I had felt before this moment was engulfed by the terror in me now.  If this man Jesus were really a prophet like everybody was saying, I knew in that moment that he would know the truth, and I felt my heart confirm my guilt as he quietly said, "Go ahead and execute her."

The crowd, which was silent, grew even more hushed, even more expectant.  Then, Jesus said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."

Then Jesus stooped down again and started writing with his finger in the dirt. For some reason, no one speaks of what Jesus wrote on the ground.  Few people saw it anyway.  I couldn’t read, so I didn’t bother to look.  But in that moment, I felt deep in my heart that I should look up.  Look at the one face I never wanted to see again.  And as I saw him read what Jesus was writing, I saw a look of terrible fear…then shame. Then he turned without saying a word. One by one, the rest of the men followed him. Within a couple of minutes, they were all gone.

Jesus stood up and looked around and said. "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

I said, "No one, sir".

Then, he looked me right in the eye, right down to my soul. I knew he could see all the way through me, to all that had happened, my long days working and my dark, secret nights. Jesus knew all of this and more.  And I knew at that moment that he, and only he, was the one without sin.  The one who could cast a stone.  Yet, he said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more."

I had heard that Jesus was a healer.  I was not blind, or lame, or a leper.  But in that moment Jesus healed something in me.  No longer was I righteously angry for what I had suffered.  Instead an impulse formed inside me which I cannot describe, a desire to make everything as peaceful and right as I felt in that moment, looking at Jesus.

Each day I kept caring for my husband just the same, and he kept treating me with contempt just the same, telling me he wished they had stoned me that day.  I bathed him, made him dinner, helped him in and out of bed, attended to him.  And gradually, something shifted.  The contempt was gone, and there was only kindness, and care, and rest.  One day, right before his death, I looked him straight in the eyes.  I said, I am sorry for the hurt and shame I caused you.  You deserve a better wife.

He looked at me and only nodded.  That was his way of telling me.  Somewhere in the pain and sickness and contempt, a peace had broken in.  We were all forgiven.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Widow of Zarephath

It was a drought.
You can think of it as a recession.
At first no one wants to believe what's happening.
It's just a couple of dry weeks,
Just a bad quarter.
It's only a matter of time.
And more time.
And more time.
And the crops die out.
And the unemployment runs out.
And the cupboard is bare.
And you're left wondering how you will make it through.
It's harder for a widow,
For a single mother with a young boy.
It's harder for those who live on the margins already.
For me and my son, we were already living week-to-week.
We relied on a little garden and a few animals.
But with no grain, the goat wouldn't make milk,
And the olive trees had no fruit.
There was nothing to trade in the market,
Nothing to sell,
And no grain to buy anyway.
I was careful to give my son only a little every day.
It killed me when he asked for more, and I had to tell him, "No, Caleb. We must save it."
It killed me when I was his wrists, so thin, his little belly with that falsely puffed look of the starving.
Then one day when I came back from the market again empty handed,
I looked in the cupboard.
All I had was just a little jar of meal
And a little jug of oil.
My son would go to bed hungry this night, and there was nothing I could do.
There was nothing to do.
I sunk to the floor.
I pressed my fingers to my eyes.
Myself—I could starve. But to let my son wittle away to nothing?
My whole life I had prayed to the Lord.
My parents had taught me to trust the Lord,
That the Lord provided for everything He had made.
They told me the story of how the Lord led our people from slavery into freedom,
And provided us with this land, a land of milk and honey.
Well, now there was no bread,
Let alone milk and honey.
I felt betrayed, but still I trusted the Lord.
That trust was not a feeling but a choice.
I had no reason to believe we would do anything, but die.
And yet, I made my mouth form the words: "God of Israel, deliver us. We wait for you. My soul waits for you, and in you do I trust."
At that moment a thought came to me.
Was it of my own thinking, or did it come from God?
The thought was of Elijah, the prophet whom the queen despised.
The one who preached to our nation,
To forsake our idols,
To seek after the one true God.
Why was I thinking of him?
Was his the way out of drought and hunger and death?
I would never encounter Elijah.
But this thought would not let go.
That if I did, I must do what I could to help him.
Was it God, or was it my own hunger-crazed thoughts?
I did not know, but I chose to believe, and to trust.
In one part of my heart, I trusted,
And in another, I prepared to die.
I went to the town gate to beg for food.
I prepared to gather sticks—a pointless act—
But dry sticks were all we had.
Sticks to build a fire,
A fire to bake a cake.
Cake to be our last meal before death.
I carried my sticks in a bundle, but when I saw I almost dropped them.
The prophet, here.
I don't know how I knew it was him—he was dirty and unkempt.
But I knew. This was Elijah.
And he called out to me, "Woman! I need water! Could you bring me water, that I may have a little drink?"
Water! What we all needed! What we all longed for!
If I had water, why would I give it to him?
If I had water, why would I help another person?
God helps those who help themselves, I've heard it said.
Why share your bread with the hungry?
Why give your water away?
And yet, I had made my resolution.
That thought—had it come from me? Or from God?
This prophet was the way through drought.
I had to trust.
I needed God to help me, for I could not help myself.
God would come first, and me second,
This was the only way to save my child.
So I said I would bring him water, and turned to find some.
But as I was turning around, he called again.
"And bring me, please, a piece of bread."
At this I could not keep silent. The nerve he had.
But I held my tongue.
This was God's prophet.
I spoke carefully.
"As surely as the Lord your God lives," I said,
For God does live. This I trusted.
And this God was the God of the prophet.
"I don't have any bread—just a handful of meal in a jar and a little jug of oil. I'm going home now to make a little cake of it, for me and my son, that we may eat it…and die."
It was silent then.
I could hear the wind whisper over the dry land.
And the prophet removed his hood.
And he said, "Don't be afraid."
At those words I felt a warm rush over me.
Something more powerful than either of us was near.
He went on. "First, make a cake for me. Then, make something for yourself and your son."
The prophet spoke in a different voice.
A voice that seemed to come from beyond himself.
"Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: the jug of oil will not fail, and the jar of meal will not be emptied, until the day the Lord God sends rain upon the earth."
I was almost scared.
What was happening?
Dare I trust it?
There was so little left.
How could I entrust it to the Lord?
How do you give when you are facing a stack of bills?
How do you give in a drought?
How does a person, a nation, trust in God?
You simply do.
You place God first, and yourself second.
You bake a cake for the prophet.
You choose trust, and not doubt.
You choose because really, there is no one else to trust more than God.
You bake your cake, and you wait.
You give your offering.
You share with others.
You work for justice.
You give to the needy.
You think beyond yourself.
You put others first.
This is how a person trusts God.
This is how a nation trusts God.
Placing others before yourself.
And it is when we do this that God acts.
The next day when I went to the cupboard I did not know what I would see.
But I trusted in God.
And I had hope.
And when I looked into the jug, it was…brimming.
Full of oil.
And the jar…grain poured out of it.
How could it be so?
But it was!
A miracle.
I saw it myself.
The jar of meal was not emptied.
The jug of oil did not fail.
When you trust God,
When you place others before yourself,
God provides.
God always provides.
Put God first, not yourself, not your own selfish desires.
Care for the poor. Care for the widow.
Give your bread to the hungry.
And God will not forsake you.
God will look after you, and heal your land.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My beauty is my enemy.
You see silken hair, soft skin,
The king saw his lost youth.
He saw the object of his desire,
An apple to be plucked,
He saw a body.
He did not see me.
My beauty is my enemy.
It destroyed my life.
This hair, this skin, they were the weapons
That beat me, whipped me from the outside,
And no one sees.
No one sees the invisible scars on my soul.
No one sees that this body is coated with my husband’s blood,
Draped with my tears,
My son’s screams ringing in my ears.
You see what you want to see.
The King saw a vision and he wanted to see.
He did not see me.
That day, through the window, he saw a body.
He saw, and he wanted what was not his to take.
As we all do, do we not?
Jealousy and greed, selfishness and desire, wanting and taking.
Preachers have blamed me for what happened.
Why they ask would I let myself be seen that day?
What immodest pride, or worse, what scheming ambitiousness led me to bathe in full sight of the king?
The king sees what he wants to see, I want to say.
But it did not matter what I wanted.  My desire.
The book writers will never know
If, with my husband away, I used my body to make ends meet,
If I desired power and wealth as many do,
Or if I simply forgot to pull a curtain,
But it does not matter what I wanted.
The desires of an ordinary woman were nothing.
Once the king wanted, I had no choice.
I was summoned.  I was brought.  I was taken.  I was used.
It has happened for thousands of years and will happen for thousands more.
Do you think it does not happen in your own place and time?
The story is so old we barely hear it anymore.
Jealousy and greed, selfishness and desire, wanting and taking.
My beauty.  My enemy.
My body.  My enemy.
Betraying me, in the days that followed,
Sick with the memory of what was done and sick
As my body convulsed and I knew
Sin has consequences.
When I was sure that I was pregnant, it was like I was torn apart once again.
Dreading that this was not over,
Fearing what people would think once my condition was obvious,
My husband away fighting that king’s battles,
Haunted by indecision, what on earth would I do?
If I did nothing, I risked my husband’s anger, his rejection, he could cast me aside,
And I would be left penniless with a nameless child.
If I told everyone the truth, who would believe me?
The word of an ordinary woman against the word of a king.
A king whom everyone knew to be the righteous servant of the Lord,
He who slew the giant and defeated all Israel’s enemies.
And what if I went to this righteous king?
What if I told him, showed him, that sin has consequences
Showed him that he could not trample thoughtlessly over people’s lives
Showed him you cannot desire and want and take and use.
Forced him to see not just a body.
Forced him to see me.
I wanted him to see.
So I sent a message.  One of the servants of the palace lived nearby and I went to her.
And I watched.  And I waited.
I learned later what he did.  The lies, the tricks.
Bringing Uriah, my righteous husband, home from the battle lines.
Sending him home to lie with his wife.
My Uriah was a soldier loyal to his troops.
A soldier is not like a king.
He must think of the man next to him,
He must rely on others.
He would not desert the troops who were fighting the kings’ war.
So the king did what was in his power to do.  For the good of his country, for the good of his people, for the sake of his own honor, he sent an innocent man to die.
When the messengers came to tell me my husband had been killed,
I was like stone.
I could not believe.
And I realized that I might be to blame.
If I had never told, if I had kept my pain for myself, Uriah might have been spared.
What cruelty, what a mean God would let rulers do as they liked and let others pay the price?
How could I worship this king’s God?
How could I….
I mourned.  I wailed.  I wore black.
When they laid Uriah in the grave my youth went with him.
I was numb as the king summoned me to his court.
Kings do not do their own dirty work, or speak their own words.
They have others do it for them.
I became his queen.
My silks, my fineries, this crown a mockery.
They burned against my skin.
People saw the queen.
They saw the seductress.
No one saw the scars.
No one saw the bloodstains.
No one saw me.
My beauty, my enemy.
My body, my enemy growing beneath me.
King David’s son was born and he rejoiced.
But life was empty for me.
The child’s wails sounding, Uriah.  Uriah.
A name I thought I would never hear again.
Until the day the prophet stepped before the king.
He stepped forward to tell the king of a terrible crime.
A poor man had only one lamb, a precious lamb he loved and cherished,
And a rich man saw it and wanted it,
Desired and took it,
Selfish he killed it, tore it apart and devoured it.
If you have thought of me the way the preachers do,
The seductress laying her body before the king,
Know this:  I was that lamb.
My life, my husband’s life, that child’s life torn apart and devoured by selfishness and greed.
That lamb is every poor person and woman and child,
That lamb is every voiceless creature
Who is sacrificed to our endless love of the self,
Our endless desire that will never be quenched,
Those who take and take and take and are never content.
Are you outraged to see that lamb slaughtered?
Are you outraged as king David was?
At the injustice?
Children sacrificed to war?
Women raped and left to die?
The young ones sold drugs meant to kill them?
The old abused because who will ever know?
Are you outraged?
Do you demand like King David, that this rich man be brought to justice?
Hear the words of the righteous prophet as he raised a bony finger to the king:
You are the man!
When I felt most alone,
What I believed no one saw,
When in my heart I cursed this God who had left me,
A skeleton in skin,
He was there.
He knew.
I was not alone.
Someone heard my cry.
Someone would not forget.
Someone would call for repentence and justice.
God did not see a body.
God saw me.
I knelt and I prayed thanks to this God.
This God would lift my burden, my secret.
This God would help me live.
My pain was not over.
Sin has its consequences.
The child that was never meant to be, went to be with the Lord.
My heart was broken and yet that was when I began to heal.
Each day I asked for strength to get through.
Each day I asked God to help me just to live.
Just to live and serve and try to make this king see righteousness.
Tried not to hate this man and even to wish him well.
And God gave me healing, and healing brings wisdom.
Wisdom for other women who had known pain.
Wisdom I sought to teach my son, Solomon.
If you have known pain,
If the injustice of others has torn you up,
If you have felt like a lamb to the slaughter,
Know that God sees.
God sees, and God is working on justice.
God is working on healing.
Yes, God is working on forgiveness.
Do not forget your pain.  Do not pretend to be unscarred.
But do not ignore the prophets that God sends.
Do not ignore their words of truth or their words of hope.
Hear them when they say that life can be good again.
Hear them when they tell you that God sees your scarred heart.
And calls it beautiful.
King Solomon, the son of Bathsheba, was known as the wisest king Israel ever had.
The temple he built was known as one of the seven great wonders of the world.
While he sinned in his later life, like his father and many kings before and after him, he was a faithful husband while his mother Bathsheba remained on the earth.
Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, is one of the four women Luke names as ancestors of Jesus.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.