Fifth Sunday in Lent Reflection
What’s in a Name? We all know the experience, hearing our name across a crowded noisy room. In the study of cognitive psychology this is known as the ‘cocktail party effect’. Someone mentions our name at a party, and across the crowded and noisy room and instantly we are attentive; our ears have tuned in.
What’s in a name? Everything!
The scribes and Pharisees have set a trap for Jesus. Where did they get this handy unnamed woman caught in the very act of adultery? Where is the man involved? We are all too aware that across culture and across history, the man disappears into the wings when it comes to receiving blame and punishment. But here we have a woman caught in the very act of adultery at a place and time where Jesus can be accosted; how convenient for the trap that is being set.
Jesus writes on the ground. What does Jesus write that affects these men in such deep way. I do not believe that the listing of their sins would have elicited the shame and guilt that we see in these devious conspirators. In terms of the law in any case, their sinfulness in no way inhibited their right and their obligation to carry out the sentence of law.
Perhaps there is another explanation. The convenient appearance of this woman caught in the very act of adultery would require a co-conspirator to close the snare of enticement and entrapment. Perhaps one of their own inner ‘gentleman’s circle’. Imagine for a moment the effect of Jesus writing the name of their co-conspirator for all to see. Perhaps next to this name, a little quote from Leviticus: ‘You shall not lie or speak falsely to one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name, thus profaning the name of your God. I am the LORD.’ This would be a real threat to the conspirators, facing the same punishment that they would have enacted on this accused ‘woman caught in adultery’.
The Evil ‘Gentlemen’s Club’
I would like to reflect this story into our own time events taking place in our church. To protect the innocent victims in the story, I am not going to mention names. The young woman is employed in the offices of some important church dignitary. The secretary to this church dignitary is also a cleric; a member of the inner circle of that same ‘gentleman’s club’. The young woman is raped by this dignitaries’ secretary. When she reports the incident to this dignitary of high standing, she is summarily dismissed from her post.
This is not the story of the Americas or of Europe, this is a story of our South African church. This is a story that I have seen played out over and over again. Young men and woman, nuns and novices, abused and then discarded by devious predators. These men are always protected by the club of the inner circle who control the purse strings while their victims are branded as troublemakers and consigned to the rubbish heap. Names have been withheld, but Jesus is with us and what has been done in the darkness will now be made known in the light.
Names must be made known. This is not a name and shame game. This is the call of the church to offer prophetic witness to justice in deeds beyond mere words. This demands that we clearly and publicly denounce evil and apathy and call on ourselves to follow a greater good. To call ourselves out of a toxic corporate environment of domination, slavery, child labour and child brides into a healthy and beautiful gospel life. History has shown us that this cannot be left to any gentleman’s club or inner circle.
The church was never mandated to raise leaders to the ‘dignity of clerical status’, enthroned to Royal domination over an obedient and docile laity. The church was consigned to those served as Jesus also came to serve. The church is in and has always been in and among the poor, the downtrodden, the excluded and the discarded. God is to be found in their faces. This is their time now; the time of the laity. No longer can cannon law and clerical entitlement trump the gospel authority. All of us are called to a higher good.
Real Jesus=Real Love
Our Lenten journey into the desert calls on each one of us to examine not only our motives, attitudes and actions, but to fall in love once more with Jesus who continues to come to us, to call us and to walk with us. Perhaps we have replaced this love with the love of a corporate church of buildings, pomp and ceremony.
The rights and obligations of the church and the laity that make up that church, must be recognised beyond the canonical protected status of clergy. Only once the laity, men and women, have regained their position of authority within the church, will trust to be restored. Anything less will be seen as window dressing that seeks to protect a privileged group of men, words without actions or moral status.
Meditating on the face of Jesus, Pope Francis recently spoke about church teaching on the preferential option for the poor; which holds that Catholics must consider the impact all choices will have on the poorest, forcefully declaring: “The Lord poured out his blood not for some, not for the few or the many, but for all!” “The reform of the church then, and the church… does not end in the umpteenth plan to change structures,” he continued. “It means instead grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, leaving yourself to be guided by the Spirit – so that all will be possible with genius and creativity.”
Who are these men that are predators hiding in the shadows? Let us give names to the shadows so that we may move beyond our fears, paranoia and delusions of control and so move into a wonderful new dawn for all of us.