Lefties are people, too.
But you may not know it from how the world has treated us. Centuries of prejudice and discrimination have dogged those of us who use our left hand. Art, literature, cultural traditions – these have all been geared toward right-handed people. Try playing a guitar or almost any musical instrument and you’ll find that it’s always harder for us lefties. Scissors, desks, notebooks – almost all geared toward the right-handed people of the world. For most of history, being left-handed meant there was something wrong with you. It’s even reflected in our language and in our culture. Did you know that the word for “right” in Latin is “dexter?” As in “dexterity” or “ambidextrous.” Usually it means someone who is versatile, limber, or skilled. All good things. You know what the Latin word for “left” is? “Sinister.” I don’t think I even have to explain that one. Do you know why people wear wedding rings on their left hands? To fend off evil. You know why we throw salt over our left shoulder? To fend off evil. It took until the 20th century in America let alone the rest of the world, to understand that being left-handed did not mean that you were wrong, evil, or sinister.
It was even common to try and “convert” left-handed people.
As if you could train the left-handedness out of them. Why you would want to is beyond my understanding, but it happened to me. When I was little, we’d go and visit my grandparents, and anytime I picked up a fork, a pencil, or a pen; anytime I picked up anything with my left hand, my grandmother would take it from my left and put it in to my right. She grew up believing being left-handed was a bad thing. Now, I don’t know if she thought it was bad simply because it made life harder and she was trying to save me from the suffering, or if she thought it was bad because evil spirits would inhabit my body and take control of me, but she would try to train the left-handedness out of me. My mom had to keep telling her that it was alright, that it was natural for me to be left-handed, but sometimes I wonder if I’m ambidextrous because of my grandmother always trying to get me to use my right hand. Now, of course, we know those of us who are left-handed are more creative and intelligent than you poor right-handed people. We are, after all, the only ones in our “right minds.” But seriously, centuries went by and most of society believed left-handed people were evil or under the influence of evil spirits just because we were different.
As a society, we are quick to pass judgment on those who are “different.”
Those who look different, think different, or act differently than we do often get treated as pariahs. And whether we realize it or not, we treat them much like we used to treat lefties – as if there was something wrong with them instead of simply people who were different. If you look at the long stretch of history, society has done this to pretty much every group of people on some level. We have a horrible track record with people of color, with women, with gender and sexual identity; we’ve been nasty to children, the elderly, and to those who don’t ascribe to “our” religion. If there’s a group of people out there that we can name as the “other,” you can bet history hasn’t been kind to them. And that’s what we are about to see in our reading today.
1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They 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. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9At 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. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” – John 8:1-11
We have all been this woman.
Maybe we haven’t committed adultery, but we’ve all done something wrong and been called on the carpet for it, and we pray that someone will have mercy on us for our mistakes. And here, Jesus shows that mercy. He shows his love and compassion for her and forgives her. We are all in need of forgiveness. But here’s what’s really interesting. When you read the story, you’re tempted to think it’s the woman caught in adultery that is on trial, but actually it’s not. It’s Jesus. HE’S the one they are trying to condemn. If you read verse six it says, “They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.” They were hoping Jesus would say something so over the top that they could justify arresting him and accusing him of heresy, and if you notice, in the Bible, they do this over and over again. In fact, they were so overzealous, they didn’t even follow their own laws, the laws they were mad at Jesus for breaking. Deuteronomy 19:15 says you need at least two or three witnesses to convict a person, but they didn’t bring forth any witnesses against this woman. Deuteronomy 22:22 says that any man caught in adultery must die alongside the adulteress, but again, they never brought him forth either. They were so blinded by their own prejudices against Jesus they violated the very thing that made them mad at Jesus to begin with and they broke the law.
And that’s the danger.
You can become so blinded by your fear, by your anxiety, by your unwillingness to accept things that are different, that you miss out on opportunities in life. You miss out on the important things like love, forgiveness, and peace, and instead get wrapped up in the petty small things that in the scope of it all are really unimportant. The Pharisees and the church leaders missed out on the coming of the Messiah. They were so consumed by their fear of Jesus and their anxiety about what he did, they couldn’t see that the Christ they had been praying for was standing in their midst. The church of today still does this. And unfortunately, more often than not. One of my pastor friends told me about this woman who was coming to visit the church. She was dressed in clothes that were a bit ragged and worn but you could tell she was dressing in the best clothes she had, and her children were wearing regular kid clothes. Nothing fancy, just shirts and pants. As she walked up to the church doors, the usher turned to the woman and said, “At THIS church, we dress up for God.” Red-faced, she turned away and left and as far as I know, she never came back. That was a person looking for the love of God and realizing it wasn’t in THAT church. I hope she found it in another, but would you be surprised if she never came back? Sometimes we stand in judgment of others without recognizing the circumstances. If that usher had simply taken the time to notice that this woman might not have any other “nicer” clothes or had thought about the fact that God doesn’t care what you wear to church, maybe he wouldn’t have been so harsh. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I don’t wear a suit to church every week. I want people who are visiting with us to know it doesn’t matter how you dress for worship, but what does matter is that they are here. Because more than anything, God wants our presence. God wants us to be a part of a loving, worshiping community of people so we can grow in our faith together. And too often we get hung up on how we dress and what we say and how we act when what matters to God are people who are actively seeking him and want to know him. We need to actively remove barriers that stand in the way of people who are trying to come to him. he doesn’t care how you dress. But I am always cognizant of how visitors and people who haven’t been to church in a while think about “church.” I don’t want their clothes or anything else to be a barrier between them and God. I don’t want them to feel “unworthy” to be in church just because they aren’t dressed to the nines. So I dress nicely – polo shirt and khakis, nice shoes – but I hope that my love of God and my love for all of you comes through more in my words and my actions.
There’s an old saying, “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”
That comes from this passage we read today. And it’s a reminder that we are just as vulnerable and just as flawed as the people we want to criticize and we need to look at ourselves first before condemning others. That is not to say you may not have a legitimate complaint or gripe against someone else. That is not to say someone didn’t hurt you or harm you in some way. And that is certainly not a justification for blaming the victim. It’s simply a reminder that we need to be careful not to treat others as objects. We need to remember they are people, too. When we see others as people, as children of God who deserve God’s love despite whatever it is they’ve done, it is easier to let go of the anger, the spite, the fear, and the anxiety that comes with labeling someone as the “other.” We make the world a better, healthier place for others and for ourselves. Just think about all the missed opportunities in life, all the hardship, all the pain, all because we couldn’t treat others as people. There are people who could have been the greatest friends, the best business partners, and potential soul mates that we’ve passed up because we never gave them a chance. Think of all of the great left-handed people in the world – Paul McCartney, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Scarlett Johansson, Clayton Kershaw, and President Obama just to name a few. Think about a world without them because people still thought being left-handed meant you were evil or possessed. How many people in the past did we miss out on because people couldn’t see past that one thing? Give people a chance. Whether they are your friend, your arch rival, your teacher or even your pastor and see them for the human being they are. Give them a chance to show you that God is working in them, too. And hug a lefty today. They are the only ones in their right minds.