Sunday, 17 March 2013

Go and sin no more

I have always loved today's Gospel: justice and mercy meet. Neither do I condemn you: go and sin no more.

I read Mark Lambert's excellent commentary (here) and that got me wondering: Did the woman sin again?

Mark rightly says that considering our own unfinished story is more important than speculating about the end of hers.  Nonetheless, the question has been haunting me.

In particular, I was wondering if anyone in St John's Gospel fails to obey a direct command from Our Lord.

So I have just had a nice nerdy afternoon going through it (the kids are all out, bar Dominique, who is doing some sewing, I think).  Here's my analysis of all (I think) of the direct imperative commands given by Our Lord in St John's Gospel.

1 'Come and see.' (1:39) - and they did.

2 'Follow me.' (1:43) - and Philip did.

3 'Fill the water pots with water...Now draw and give a draught to the master of the feast.' (2:7-8) - and they did.

4 'Take these away: do not turn my Father's house into a place of barter.' (2:16) - and they did, encouraged by His actions as well as his words!

5 'Destroy this temple...' (2:19) - and they did, some time later.

6 'Give me some water to drink.' (4:7) I don't think we are told if the Samaritan woman did or not: I have always assumed that she did, but it is not explicit in the text.

7 'Go home, fetch thy husband, and come back here.' (4:16) -  Given that Our Lord knew she had no husband, this seems to have been a rhetorical teaching device, rather than the imperative it appears.

8 'Go back home: thy son is to live' (4:50) - and he did.

9 'Rise up, take up thy bed, and walk.' (5:8) - and he did!

10 'Do not sin any more.' (5:14) - we are not told.

11 'Gather up the broken pieces that are left over, so that nothing may be wasted.' (6:12) - and they did.

12 'It is myself: do not be afraid.' (6:20) - we are not told, but I assume their fear was dissolved..

13 'Go, and do not sin again henceforward.' (8:11) - the case under discussion.

14 'Away with thee, and wash in the pool of Siloe.' (9:7) - and he did.

15 'Take away the stone!' (11:39) - and they did, after brief protestation.

16 'Loose him, and let him go free.' (11:44) - and they did.

17 'Let her alone.' (12:7) - we are not told, but I assume from the context that Judas did.

18 'Let these others go free.' (18:7) - and they did.

19 'Put thy sword back into its sheath.' (18: 11) - we are not told, but I assume from the context that Peter did.

20 'Do not cling to me thus... Return to my brethren, and tell them this' (20:17) - and she did.

21 'Let me have thy finger; see, here are my hands. Let me have thy hand; put it into my side. Cease thy doubting, and believe.' (20:27) - and he did.

22 'Cast to the right of the boat, and you will have a catch. ' (21:6) - and they did.

23 'Bring some of the fish you have just caught' (21: 10) - and they did.

24 'Come and break your fast.' (21:12) - and they did.

25 'Feed my lambs... Tend my shearlings... Feed my sheep.' (21:15-17) - and he did (and still does.)

26 'Follow me.' (21:19) - and he did.

27 'Do thou follow me.' (21:22) - and he did.

In 20 of the 27 cases, it is explicitly affirmed that the command was obeyed.  In four others, I think that a safe inference (6, 12, 17, 19) which leaves three. One of these is the case of the Samaritan woman's husband - which clearly was not a command that could be obeyed, and I therefore treat as a rhetorical teaching device.  The remaining two are the case of the healed cripple at Bethsaida (no. 10), and the woman caught in adultery: both of whom were commanded to sin no more.

I suppose my tentative thesis is that one could not disobey a direct command from the Word Incarnate - even if one were dead, like Lazarus; that is, that God's Word achieves what it (He) sets out to accomplish.

And therefore, that the woman taken in adultery did indeed turn her life around.

There is, of course, an obvious counter-example (though not in St John's Gospel).

And, of course, I could be wholly mistaken in my approach: as ever I am interested in others' views.


Part-time Pilgrim said...

I think it is quite possible that the woman did not commit adultery again but unlikely she committed no more sins. I don’t think your suggestion that your thesis that it is impossible to disobey a direct command from the word incarnate is right. Anyone so addressed would still have free will and would have the freedom to be disobedient.

Ben Trovato said...

P-tP Yes, you are probably right... Though it is interesting to consider the case of Lazarus: clearly he had no free will in that instance.

The other commands, of course, were all specific, one-off actions; the two 'go and sin no more' are rather larger, and as you say, would be subject to the potential for disobedience, and over a very long timescale.

Still, I enjoyed collecting all the examples!

Ambrose Little said...

Hi! I promise this is not spam. I just nominated you for the Liebster blog award because I think your blog deserves more visibility. See what I mean: Congrats! ;)