NEW: Pontius Pilate (2) – Discernment*

Pontius Pilate had a problem.

Please read Matthew 27:24-26 & John 19:16-22

For all his gesture  and protestation, Pilate was still obliged to have the final word, and he did so in a probably characteristically sadistic way: he had this innocent man flogged and crucified. Often used as a preliminary to crucifixion, flogging or scourging was no token beating but as Josephus described the process, meant someone was ‘flayed to the bone’ and it was sometimes fatal in itself.

All the same, despite his misgivings – his self-betrayal perhaps – Pilate did have the very final word. Above the cross, as was common at the time, a plaque is placed stating the person’s misdemeanour. Pilate had written the words: ‘The King of the Jews’. And to further emphasise the point, John’s Gospel tells us it was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. Just to make it absolutely clear to all who were present. People of every language.

Challenged by the Chief Priests to change it. This time Pilate stays firm: ‘What I have written I have written.’

For most of my employment career I was a public servant, working for the civil service and then the NHS. A long time ago, I was looking for another job in a totally different field of work and at one interview I was asked how I would cope with a situation where I was asked to represent the prospective employer in a way with which I personally disagreed. Possibly somewhat to their astonishment I told them that as a public servant one faces such dilemmas a lot of the time (I didn’t get the job!).

In the same way that most of us have faced dilemmas, we have probably all had to do something that, deep down, we disagreed with or knew was not right. Such untenable situations are often times when we need to discern what our response is and what God is saying through them.

When we are discerning what we believe to be God’s will, we may find ourselves experiencing a range of emotions and thoughts. We might write a list of pros and cons of each aspect of the dilemma. We might talk to other people and gain their opinion and insight. We might take the ‘Gideon’s Fleece’ approach – laying out the options before God and asking for specific guidance. And all those approaches may well be beneficial in discerning the way forward. Some situations may ultimately lead us to ‘wash our hands’ of it. To stick with what we personally believe. To maintain our own integrity. To say ‘what I have written I have written’.

Bring to mind an occasion when you were trying to discern God’s will about a specific situation.

What feelings did you have?

What or who was helpful in discerning the way forward?

NEW: The Uncondemned Woman (2) – Absolved*

After things had gone wrong, the words I wrote had meant well. It was written from the heart. I asked for forgiveness and it offered forgiveness. It was responded to with condemnation. It was not the response I had expected.

‘Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”’ (John 8:9b-11)

As elsewhere, on many, many occasions, Jesus’ concern is shown, as one writer put it, not with the law but with people, their own integrity and their relation to God. We see here, as Paul described it, ‘the gentleness of Christ’ (2 Cor 10:1).

As well as the encounter with the woman from Samaria we can compare this incident with another woman judged by others to be sinful (see Luke 7:36-50 – and as an aside, the woman in that incident is not, as was mistakenly thought for hundreds of years, Mary Magdalene or the one involving Mary of Bethany).

Jesus’ words to the woman, ‘Neither do I condemn you’ reflect once again that he did not come in to the world to condemn it but to save it.

And yet, she is forever remembered as the woman caught in adultery: forever labelled by her mistake.

Surely there is much more value in remembering her as the uncondemned woman? As the woman who was saved from death by Jesus. As the woman, who like many others, would have a story to tell about her encounter with the Son of God and how she received a response she did not expect.

Pope John Paul II said this encounter between the woman and Jesus shows us that: ‘In whatever condition we find ourselves, we can always open ourselves to conversion and receive forgiveness for our sins.’

If you are a regular churchgoer, you will I am sure be familiar with the saying of a prayer of confession at the beginning of each service. Thankfully, we can come to God to ask forgiveness at any time of day (or night!). Time to acknowledge when the beam in our own eye is so big that it hits other people in the face. Time to acknowledge those things which are ‘distance creators’ between us and God. Time to ask God for forgiveness for those things we believe are unforgivable.

Many of us condemn ourselves for the mistakes we made (as I imagine this particular woman did also). Sometimes it doesn’t need anyone else, let alone God, to add to that condemnation.

In God’s love and mercy, the intention is not that we will be remembered for what we did wrong or the mistakes we made (although, alas, it is inevitable that some will be). The intention is that we will be remembered for knowing we are not condemned and that we too can go on our way and endeavour not to sin again.

 

Are there aspects of your life about which you feel the need for forgiveness?