An Ash Wednesday reflection

John 8:2-11

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The word I have been reflecting on the past couple of days, thinking about ash and lent is fragility. As humans we are made in God’s image, we are created good, we are made for community and communion with God and each other. But there is also a fragility to us. God makes Adam by breathing his life into the dust. We are a miracle, but a miracle of hydrocarbons and calcium and iron other bits and bobs that will be left as dust when the breath is gone. Life is beautiful, precious and often short.

In the story from John 8 we see the fragility of our humanity. A woman in a man’s world. She was caught in the act. Her guilt is certain, as is the condemnation, anger, shouts and stones. Maybe you can see in her story something of your own susceptibility to sin, to failure, to turning away from God. 

Just like the teachers of the law, we can resist looking in the mirror to see our own frailties. We can use our boundaries to keep a safe distance from the mess of other people’s lives. We can deflect the attention onto to others in our defensiveness, blame, shaming, scapegoating. In Lent we hold up the mirror to ourselves. We acknowledge that we have been made good but that we are not God. Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone. We have an opportunity now to hold up that mirror to our own frailty and fragility. 

Jesus bends down to write in the dust. The dust is where it all started. The dust is where it will end. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. And Jesus takes on this dust. He enters into our frailty. He becomes human. He denies himself, empties himself, humbles himself. The Son of God becomes a vulnerable baby. Jesus, the only human ever able to look in that mirror and see no sin, dies a sinner’s death. On the cross he meets our brokenness, our fragility, our humility, our humanity and on the third day he transforms it for us. Neither do I condemn you. He has taken all the blame, all the shame, leaving us with only life and freedom to be God’s children. We cannot fix our fragility ourselves. But we can be transformed by his love and his blood and his limitless grace and neverending love for us. What do you long for Jesus to take from you? What do you long for Jesus to transform in your life?

Go and leave your life of sin. We are invited to choose repentance instead of defensiveness. Choose relationship with Jesus instead of independence from God. Choose love instead of fear. Choose life instead of death. Lent is 40 days of remembering how we need God’s love, how we need Jesus’ grace in our lives, how we need the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us. We start on Ash Wednesday with dust and ashes, the brokenness of sin and the pain of the cross. But we look towards Easter, the triumph of eternal life and the sure promise of freedom from anything that would hold us back from walking closely with God. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ. We have been made for goodness and beauty and our fragility does not need to hold us back from that any more. We are free to accept the forgiveness and love that God offers. 

Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Give me again the joy of your salvation and sustain me with your gracious spirit. Amen

by Kaf Smith