I love sports. I love to watch them just as much as I like to play them. I get the same feeling watching sports that most people get eating comfort food. My family bonds over sports and sports analysis. When my dad calls to talk about Duke basketball, I feel cared for and loved; his updates are really him just calling to say he was thinking about me. So you can imagine I love watching national championships, even if my team isn’t playing. I love how excited the fans get and how a championship game can bring a city together. But something didn’t sit right with me the entire time I was watching Super Bowl 50. I couldn’t get into the game and I felt uneasy.
This uneasy feeling began before there was even a ball in play. Before the game, they introduced all 50 winners of the MVP award. Each winner came out and was applauded – even those from opposing teams cheered to honor the talent and ability, even if they hated the team they represented. Each player came out, stood on a mark and received applause – all except one: Tom Brady. He came out to boos and didn’t pause as long as the others did in the champion ring. Instead, he made his way quickly to the back row of those honored. I saw one former player mouth the words “it’s okay” to him. The announcer kept going through the names, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of Brady.
As I read my twitter feed, many people felt that Brady, who is accused of the whole ‘Deflategate’ controversy, looked smug as he stood wearing his expensive sunglasses. Trust me, I understand the critique. I live near LA, where un-needed sunglasses inside are a regular occurrence and a sign of pretentiousness and self-importance. But no one said anything about the other players who wore sunglasses, and as I looked at the players without them, it was clear the sun was blaring down on them. I wonder if Brady’s glasses weren’t about something other than pretentiousness, such as sun avoidance?
I sat the entire football game feeling troubled that Tom Brady was booed, and I am not a Tom Brady fan. I couldn’t figure out why I cared so much until I thought about the Sunday morning message of the woman often labeled as the ‘adulterous woman.’ I have been preaching about that event for two weeks, and the story continues to haunt me. Somehow these stories have connected in my head and I wonder if the same people booing, as they were made anonymous by the super bowl crowd, would have been yelling “stone her.” Worse than that, judging by my sometimes inappropriate yelling at Duke games… I wonder if I would be yelling it as well.
I have a little ‘self-righteousness’ inside of me. I don’t always like to admit it, but when news breaks of another self-prescribed ‘good Christian’ committing some sort of egregious sin… I kind of like it. It makes me feel better about all the ways I have failed. If I can label others by their failings, somehow in the worst version of myself, I can feel better about the ways that I have failed. My inner monologue says “at least I am not as bad as them.”
The story of the ‘woman caught in adultery’ can be found in John 8. If you don’t know the story, it is about how Jesus reacts to a women dragged in front of him who is accused of committing adultery. Jesus is asked what must be done to this ‘sinful’ woman. Mosaic Law suggests stoning for those who commit adultery, and there is high drama as we wait to hear Christ’s judgment. Will he stick with the old law or does he have something new to offer?
I was struck by the very title: “The woman caught in adultery” or “The adulterous woman.” Most translations of the bible have titles that aren’t original to the text added in to give context for the reader. But as I read John, I don’t think that this scripture is about adultery at all; and in many ways it isn’t even about this woman. As I read John 8, I see a story focused on the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus in a bind where he must choose between stoning a woman (disobeying Roman law) or choosing grace and deeming himself discredited amongst Rabbis. She is in many ways a prop to someone else’s drama. But Jesus makes the story about a third way, as he often does. One that doesn’t absolve her nor condemn her. In an often quoted phrase, Jesus says “anyone without sin cast the first stone.” All the stones are dropped and everyone walks away.
Scholars sometimes discredit this portion of John as being added in later. Even if that is the case, there is something so Jesusy and captivating about it – that even those outside the church know the phrase “throw the first stone.” I think that is why I felt uneasy watching Brady get booed. I mess up all the time, sometimes publicly (my publicly isn’t very big mind you!), and I wonder: do we feel easier throwing stones at those who we can’t imagine as real people because they have attained celebrity? I don’t know if Brady is entirely responsible for the deflating situation, but what I do know is that he is human; and no matter what you think of him, yesterday couldn’t have been easy for him. I think the lesson of John 8 is to look down every day and make sure I don’t have a rock in my hand.