There’s a passage in the gospel of John that has often been used to exemplify the compassion and righteousness of Christ towards his sinful followers. In John 7:53-8:11, we read the story of a woman caught in adultery. The religious authorities (a group of men) brought her to the temple courts where Jesus was teaching. By law, a woman such as her should have been stoned to death. Would Jesus condemn the woman or break God’s law? As usual, Jesus did nothing they expected. He said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b, NIV). One by one, they left, having been confronted by their own hypocrisy. They meant to trap him, but Jesus stumped them and the woman was saved from certain death.
I was taught that we all are like this woman. Caught in sin, deserving of condemnation, but alive in Christ. And when it comes to judging others, be warned! Who are we to cast a stone when our own hands are weighted with guilt?
Lesson taught and received, so I thought – until I began to realize that I had internalized this story and made it my own. I am that adulterous woman (though I’ve never committed any acts of adultery). This is how the Church sees me. And I’m saved only by the good graces of Jesus when really I should be condemned for my seductive, feminine ways.
As I grew older, I learned that the stories of women in the Bible were far more diverse and interesting than what I was first taught; that “biblical women” weren’t just competitive mothers and unsavory singles (except Mary the virgin, but she was avoided because it was too Catholic to call her the Mother of God). There were women teaching men, women giving prophecy, women believing the Son of God well before any man did.
I’m realizing that I had fallen into the trap that happens to most marginalized people: you believe the press. You believe the labels given by the powerful because those labels seem to make sense of your own powerlessness: Asians are the model minority? But of course we are, we’re successful and have perfect families. All of us! Asians are the foreigners? Yes, and we’re taking over your country! Asian women are lotus blossoms or tigers? Um sure, as soon as I fit into my size 2 dress that I’ve never owned and beat my non-existent husband and children into submission.
Labels also keep me, and others, from walking forward in the Church. I shouldn’t be a pastor because I’m a woman and Jesus was a white male (actually a Jew but let’s not think about that). I shouldn’t be in ministry because Asians should be successful doctors, engineers, or lawyers. I shouldn’t be happy because I’m single and my supposed purpose and calling in life is to be a wife and mother.
Jesus knows better. Jesus, as our source of life, knows how incredibly capable, gifted, talented, and diverse we are. Jesus knows how incredibly akin we are as well. He didn’t fall into the trap that would have kept him in his place. Instead he pointed out the common humanity between the accusers and the accused. By doing so he resisted the condemnation and labels we place on one another. He refused the labels placed on the woman.
He told the woman that she too could move on and that it was within her ability to live a life of fullness and love. She could live. She could be.
In the end, it’s still true. We are all like this woman… and we are all like those religious authorities. Labels, stereotypes, condemnation abound, but they don’t have to. They will end when we choose to resist and see each other for who we are.
We can all have life. We can be who we are in Christ. Let no one tell you otherwise, least of all yourself.
This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.
[Edit: I messed up with the reblogging attempt.. so I did end up cutting and pasting anyways!]