April 4, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical women: Stories of two public sinners

John F. Fink(Thirty-fourth in a series of columns)

The Gospels have two stories about Jesus’ relations with women who were public sinners.

The first is in the seventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel.

While Jesus was dining in the home of a Pharisee, reclining on his side with his feet behind him in the normal posture of guests at a banquet in those days, a disreputable woman suddenly appeared behind him.

We know nothing about her except that she was a sinful woman (she was not Mary Magdalene), but she presumably had heard Jesus teaching in the city and felt an overwhelming sorrow for her sins.

She stood behind Jesus, crying bitterly, so copiously that she could bathe Jesus’ feet with her tears then wipe them with her long hair. Then she kissed Jesus’ feet and anointed them with ointment that she had brought in an alabaster flask.

The self-righteous Pharisee thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner” (Lk 7:39).

Of course, Jesus did know what sort of woman she was. He told the Pharisee, “Her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love” (Lk 7:47).

Then he told the woman, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Lk 7:48, 50).

Others at the table said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (Lk 7:49).

However, Jesus really said that she was forgiven because of her sorrow and her faith. That the woman’s sins had been forgiven was then attested by the great love she showed toward Jesus.

The second story is now at the beginning of the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel, but it wasn’t always there. It has been in different places in different manuscripts, and the language and style is more Luke’s than John’s. Nevertheless, it is canonical Scripture.

It’s the story of the woman caught in adultery. Scribes and Pharisees brought her to Jesus in the Temple area in Jerusalem. They wanted to test Jesus to bring a charge against him. They told him that Moses commanded them to stone women caught in adultery, but asked what he said. (Actually, Lv 20:10 and Dt 22:22 say that both the man and the woman who commit adultery should be put to death, but don’t say anything about stoning.)

We know the rest of the story, of course. Jesus bent over and wrote in the dust for awhile. Finally, he stood up and said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8:7).

The scribes and Pharisees, one by one, walked away, leaving Jesus alone with the woman.

Jesus said, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (Jn 8:10).

When the woman replied no, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (Jn 8:11).

He obviously didn’t condone the sin of adultery since he told her not to sin any more, but he also refused to judge her. †

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