By Jerry Maynard, a Campaign Nonviolence Action Organizer in Texas
Jesse Manibusan wrote a lovely hymn called, “Open My Eyes”. I have always loved this hymn and I usually sing it in the morning as I get ready for my day. I love this hymn because it is a prayer to God that is asking for the grace to be open, or in one word, to be vulnerable. Each stanza is another petition of asking God to help us be vulnerable in some particular way. But why is this so powerful and why is it necessary?
I find that vulnerability is so important because the very essence of vulnerability is action. When we decide to stand in solidarity with all of creation, we make the conscious choice to be vulnerable, to put ourselves out there. Vulnerability happens in that moment when we ask ourselves, “should I do this”, “should I speak up”, “should I take this risk”, and then we move.
One of the greatest examples of vulnerability that I hold deep in my heart, is the story of the woman caught in adultery. In the Scriptures, we are told that the High Priests and the angry crowd, bring a woman “caught in the act” of adultery to Jesus. They inform Jesus that this “woman” (who tradition says is Mary Magdalene) was caught in the act of adultery and according to the law of Moses, she was to be stoned to death. Now, before we mention vulnerability, let us point out a few things. The Scriptures clearly state that the woman was “caught in the act” of adultery. However, what we often realize is that for her to have been “caught”, someone had to be watching her commit adultery, or be participating in the act itself. Thus, by being self-righteous and bringing the woman to Jesus assuming that He would condemn her for her “sin”, the High Priests and the crowd have exposed themselves as participating in the adulterous act either by watching or engaging. This is sexism Scripture Scholars point out.
Now, Jesus in this circumstance does something very interesting. When He is asked whether or not the woman should be stoned, Jesus steps down into the dirt then begins to write with His finger. Scripture Scholars speculate that He was writing the sins of those present (including most especially the religious leaders) but I do not think this is relevant. I instead think that the very gesture of Jesus stepping down into the reality of the woman, is far more important. Why? Jesus’ act of stepping down shows that He is putting His body into the story. The very act of stepping down onto the level of the woman, is showing that she deserves dignity. Jesus, in choosing to get on her level, has chosen to say with His body “I respect you and wish to be in solidarity with you”. He is saying through His body that the misogyny present here is unacceptable.The risk taken here is that He could Himself also be stoned to death, but He steps down anyway so that she may be lifted up. Jesus is making Himself vulnerable so as to show us that standing between the oppressed and the oppressor, is sacred ground. Standing in that place of vulnerability where you speak truth to power even when your voice shakes or when you may fear that you could end up like the victim. This is vulnerability. This is the way of an engaged person of conscience. This is Peace.
When Jesus announces to the crowd, “let you who is without sin, cast the first stone”, everyone leaves. Once everyone is gone, Jesus picks up the woman and asks her, “does anyone condemn you”? “No” she replies, “neither do I”. After this, He exhorts her to go forth and sin no more. How can we begin to cultivate vulnerability?
As we try to go about our work for peace and justice, let us call deep on our courage and dare greatly to stand in that hallowed space between the oppressed and the oppressor. Let us begin to reside in vulnerability so as to create a world where risk-taking for the sake of justice is normal.
May our eyes be open, so as to see the poor struggling to live. May our ears be open to hear the cry of the poor. May our hearts be broken open that we may learn to love in such a way that sets the captives free. This is vulnerability. This is PEACE.