I wasn’t present at this past Friday’s pickle ball match. And perhaps that’s a good thing, because I hear that it descended into something of a public shaming.
Perhaps “shaming” is too strong a word (I wasn’t there to see it, after all.) But from what I hear, our little group of pickle ball novices wound up getting schooled by a much-more experienced gal, after one of our guys pulled up lame. Martha had arrived early for her match – and offered to sub-in as an injury replacement.
Apparently, that’s when a few of the finer points of the game started to surface. We’d been playing something, Martha explained. But it sure wasn’t pickle ball. When I heard later about this real-time in-game rules review, I was glad to have been AWOL on Friday. I’m not sure I could’ve handled both a tender elbow AND a damaged ego.
I did wind up thinking about the pickle ball shaming scenario over the weekend, though, when I spent a little time reflecting on the scripture passage we heard at Mass. It comes from the eighth chapter of John’s gospel – the story about the woman caught in the act of adultery. Or “in the very act of adultery,” as the mob of accusers puts it.
Most Christians are well familiar with the broad outlines of the story…but as I sat with the story, two tiny details popped out at me – two tidbits I’d never noticed before. While we learn a good deal about the depths of God’s mercy and forgiveness in the story as a whole, these details struck me as offering an additional insight about how God desires to relate to us.
One detail is this: Jesus handles interruptions well – with much more grace and compassion than I am inclined to display. The gospel says “early in the morning, [Jesus] arrived in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them.” That was his agenda for the morning. And it was just about then that all hell broke loose.
Jesus would have been within his rights to say, “Not now, folks – we’ll deal with this later in private, after I’m done teaching.” But you’ll notice that’s not how he handled things. Instead, he embraced the messiness of the moment. He was present to the angry mob. He was present to fearful woman. And it winds up becoming a powerful demonstration of the promise God makes to the chosen people: “I am with you.”
Here, in this story, we have proof of that promise: God is with us – even in our worst moments. Especially in our worst moments – our angry moments, or vengeful moments, or shameful moments.
The second detail that caught my eye comes right near the end of the passage. John reports this: “Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they?’”
Can you imagine how this simple act of straightening up must have melted the woman’s heart? Jesus, rising…to address her, one-on-one. Jesus, rising…to gaze gently into her eyes.
Surely, the woman would have gotten the message, don’t you think? With Jesus looking into her eyes, there would have been no opportunity for shame to enter in. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Shame has no power here, only love. Only my mercy and forgiveness.”
So what is there to hold us back – as Lent calls us forward into renewal and rebirth? Jesus wants to heal our brokenness, even if we’ve been flouting the rules on a regular basis. He understands the messiness of our lives, too – and he surely won’t mind the interruption…when we take a moment to bring some of that messiness to his attention.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.