Forgot to post this when I wrote it. It’s based off of 2 Samuel 13:1-20 and John 8:1-11
So we have two stories here. Two women, victims of violence. Two stories about lines, one in each testament. Let’s talk about lines, shall we? We encounter lines, boundaries, every day of our lives. In school we have deadlines, telling us when to hand in an assignment, keeping our time management in regulation. We have lines on the street telling us which lanes to stay in, which direction to go. We talk about crossing lines and toeing lines, we have lines around us that we call ‘personal space’, and we have lines that we use to determine if someone has the right morals, according to us, or according to the law, I suppose, since laws are lines of agreement between the government and its people. Often lines are not to be crossed without invitation. There’s that little red line at the customs desk at airports, where you can get in trouble for crossing before you’re called. We build our own lines that we dare not cross, and call them ‘comfort zones’, and do our very best to stay within them.
I don’t know if any of you are Robin Thicke fans, but there has been a lot of controversy over his song “Blurred Lines”. Conversations have sprung up across the country about sexual boundaries, what it means to give or have consent, what constitutes ‘legitimate’ rape, or what amounts to crossing the line in the first place; especially when the lines don’t seem clear. Let’s take a stab at it.
Studies tell us that one in four women will be the victim of sexual assault over the course of her lifetime. Eighty percent of sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance of the victim. Less than five percent of completed or attempted rapes are reported to law enforcement. In the Hebrew bible, we heard a story about Tamar, daughter of King David. Her story could very well be the story of a classmate or friend or stranger on the street. Like eighty percent of victims, Tamar knew her rapist, her half-brother Amnon. Like thirty percent of attempted or completed rapes, the attack was premeditated, the very method being suggested by Amnon’s cousin Jonadab.
Amnon exploited Tamar’s compassion and kindness, pretending to be sick and asking for care so that he could get her alone. Like ninety-five percent of rapes, Tamar’s went unreported. Tamar’s other brother Absalom said to her, ‘Hey. No need to make a big deal out of this. Better to keep it quiet. It’s a family matter, after all. And in any case, he’s your brother. Don’t take this so hard’. Don’t take this so hard. Absalom is basically telling his sister that her lines are unimportant, that they don’t count- and even if they did, the reputation of the family is more important than her trauma; more important than her boundaries.
But Tamar’s boundaries ARE important, and Amnon crossed them at every step of the way; when he decided to lure her into his bedroom, when he didn’t listen to her pleas to stop, or for him to ask King David to marry her, thereby saving her at least some scrap of dignity in the eyes of society. In that era, unmarried women who had been raped or involved in incest were seen as defiled and disgraced; rape was a physical, spiritual, and social act of violence, inviting scorn and exclusion where compassion and inclusion would be needed, and Tamar knew this. She knew that no matter what she said, her physical boundaries would be invaded- her last hope lay with preserving her social boundaries and saving herself from social rejection. By raping her, Amnon not only invaded Tamar’s boundaries, but violently shoved her outside of society’s boundary as well.
So maybe this story isn’t so old; maybe our society isnt so different from the one that abused and rejected Tamar. We see Jonadebs in frat houses, pouring extra-strong drinks for the girls encouraging and enabling the Amnons; we see Absaloms in university administrations, keeping sexual assault reports a ‘university matter’, trying to avoid a PR disaster…ever heard the phrase “boys will be boys”? Sounds like Absalom to me… We hear people question what a victim was wearing when he or she was attacked, or how much they had had to drink…we draw our own lines to keep the victims on the outside, on the irresponsible side, on the blamed side. We take away their ability to cross back into the fold. But what about when the person on the other side of our line is someone that we have a really hard time seeing as a victim? What if the person is a criminal? An Adulterer? A con man? A prostitute? What then?
It’s really, really hard to have compassion for a rule-breaker. We want some sort of justice or vindication, whether we call it punishment, karma, or divine judgement. We hate stories where the culprit ‘gets away with it’. But what’s really going on there?
I mean, its nice to be able to draw a line between rule breakers and rule followers, or between the sinners and the saints…especially if we get to be on the side of the saints. Calling out the misdeeds of others has the side effect of showing off our own piousness, or so we’d like to think. Aren’t we supposed to take a stand against wrongdoing? To draw our lines in the sand, between what is and isn’t acceptable?
Let’s think about that for a minute. If we’re drawing lines to separate ourselves from others, we do just that. We separate, pull apart, and loose sight of our beloved community. The further apart we place ourselves from the ‘outsiders’ or the ‘sinners’, the harder it is to see that they are made in God’s image, too. The more attention we put onto keeping them out, the less attention we have to pay to ourselves and our own actions. ‘I may have cheated on that test’, we say to ourselves, ‘but at least I’m not an adulterer!’. We fall into the trap of piety by proxy.
So, in our Gospel story today, Jesus drew his own “line in the sand”. In some translations, he “wrote with his finger on the ground” (NRSV). We don’t know what he wrote. Was it a line, actually inviting people to cross it, symbolic of their allegiance? Was it a line of protection, not meant to be crossed? Was it just a doodle to prove a point that their insistence on choosing punishment over grace was not of importance? Often, when we hear someone say ‘I’m drawing my line in the sand’, what they’re really saying is that ‘this is as far as I’m willing to go. I’m gonna take a stand now, I won’t go any further, and you shouldn’t either’. As we saw with Tamar, often, lines are boundaries and are not meant to be crossed. But maybe jesus wanted the crowd to cross this line.
Mosaic law, the law of the Jews, didn’t leave much room for choosing the response to crime. According to the law, the adulterous woman should be stoned to death. You didn’t have to make a choice. The scripture told you what to do. Jesus, however, defied the authority of the scripture and gave the crowd a choice. Jesus gave the crowd the opportunity to offer grace to the woman; mercy was suddenly in the equation. If we are to imagine that the ‘line’ was drawn between the woman and the crowd, with Jesus on the (literal and figurative) side of the woman, he was making his statement that, if Jesus is one of us, he is all of us. Jesus was the crowd and the woman. Many people in the Bible bristled at this Jesus guy. Who did he think he was, teaching the New Way, flouting the Mosaic law that made decision-making so easy? In his frequently quoted response, Jesus said to the crowd, ”Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.
Jesus not only gave the crowd a choice between following the Mosaic law or practicing grace, but he also gave them the choice to affirm their unity as a community of humans, all of them children of God. Jesus, perhaps snarkily (I always imagine that Jesus might’ve gotten a little snarky when provoked or annoyed), reminded them that they were no different from the woman they were so eager to stone. By standing on her side, Jesus reminded them that he was no different from the woman. If the greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as you love yourself, Jesus was showing us that to do that, we must first see each other as neighbors.
So maybe this line in the sand wasn’t to separate, but to unify. Jesus was daring people to cross the line of their comfort zone. The line between who they will or won’t accept in society. The line between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Jesus dared the crowd to choose mercy and grace and unity. He dares us every day to cross our own lines; to welcome back the Tamars and the Adulterers alike, he dares us to break down the barriers of judgement and separation, and rejoin, rejoicing, as a beloved community.