When I was a kid I had lots of Star Wars action figures – Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Han Solo, Princess Leia, C-3PO, R2-D2 – I even had the play sets and vehicles – X-Wing fighters, the Millennium Falcon, and the Death Star. These were part of the backdrop of my childhood. I would tie the figures to sticks and throw them, crash the ships into trees and dirt – I played hard.
A few years ago, I came across a website that was for Star Wars buffs, and they had a link to the collectables, including the action figures. I saw many of the same guys I had as a kid. They were worth a lot of money now.
But there was a catch – the “collector’s catch.”
If the figures were in their original packaging – i.e., unopened – then they were worth upward of $100 and more! In the condition of my poor guys, whom I had loved and played with hard, they were worth less than a dollar, usually.
That’s the difference between a collector and a kid – or better, between a professional and an amateur.
But, do you know where the word “amateur” comes from? It comes to us in English from the French, meaning “lover.” Often, we use the word, “amateur,” to denote someone who has not done a good or perfect job at something. However, strictly speaking, an amateur is someone who does something simply because they love it.
In the Gospel today, we see a great contrast between the religious “professionals” and the “amateur” Jesus. Here they are, having captured this woman in the very act of adultery – they busted her – and now, they drag her into the square and toss her, embarrassed, in front of the Lord. Never mind where the man went!
Professionals are trained. Professionals are perfectionists – intent on finding flaws and fault in the performance of others. Here, these men point out the woman’s fault: she is an adulteress. They saw her; they know. What’s more, they know the Law: “Moses commanded us to stone such women.” Now, they want the opinion of the “wise and perfect Teacher.”
But what does Jesus do? He stoops down and draws in the dirt – as if their question doesn’t interest him. The men want an answer, and they keep pressing the “amateur” Lord. “We’ve got him!” they think. “Look: he can’t even face us!”
Finally, Jesus rises and gives His answer: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Bam! Game over! Was this beginner’s luck for our amateur Jesus? Or did He just show them – and us – the true point of the Law?
The men who brought the woman out to Jesus didn’t care about her – who she was; they didn’t really care about what she did – although they knew it was sinful and worthy of punishment. She was, for them, simply a tool – an object – without dignity of her own. The punishment would not have helped anyone, but that wasn’t their aim.
Jesus, on the other hand, saw the woman, and as the Divine Amateur, He loved her. His response puts everything in perspective. We all need mercy and the love of God. We are all sinners.
In the weeks ahead, as folks return to church for Palm Sunday and Easter, we can look at them with jaded eyes and ask where they have been all year. But that would be falling into the same trap that the men in today’s gospel did. Do we love those people? Are we welcoming them with God’s love?
I want our church to be a church full of amateur Christians! Christains who are so because we love it – not because we are perfect or professional, but because we are loved by an Amateur God and we love Him in return. The seats that our brothers and sisters will fill next week belong to them as well! May we welcome them; make room for them; love them! As we enter these holiest of days, may we all strive to be amateurs – and see how God turns us into perfect images of His Son’s love.