In today’s Gospel (the option for Year C), we hear the encounter between Jesus, a crowd, and a woman caught in adultery. In the light of the #MeToo movement, and a demand for justice for women, the circumstances of a woman caught in adultery provokes a lot of 21st Century questions: Where’s the guy? How come he’s not liable to stoning? Is she really as culpable as he is, considering the dynamics of the relationship between men and women of that time and place? And many similar questions.
These kind of questions are good to consider as we strive to be a better society. What I see in this encounter is that the woman is indeed being exploited, but the exploitation has less to do with the sin of adultery than it has to do with the scribes and Pharisees using her as a trap for Jesus. When they ask Him what He thinks of the law from Moses saying that they should stone such a woman, they could care less about what happens to her. They are just hoping that Jesus will say something in public that will get Him in trouble with either the people or with the Romans.
As Jesus was writing on the ground, as a show of not wanting to play their game, I wonder if He thought of His mother. When Mary was betrothed to Joseph, and it was discovered that she was pregnant, she could have been exposed to the same fate this woman was (Matthew 1:18-24). Is that something that Mary and Joseph would have told Jesus growing up? Whatever Jesus might have been thinking, He eludes the trap once again, and prevents the woman from being harmed. He simply says to those waiting to stone her: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And the crowd goes away, one by one, until it is only the woman and Jesus there. And at the end, noticing that there is no one there to condemn the woman, Jesus says to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
I have to admit that when I think about the division and hatred in our world, I wonder if there might be people today who are so blind to their own sin that they actually would throw a stone. I hope that would not be the case, but it seems so easy for us to rush to judgment, then condemnation, then violence, all in the name of –what? Righteousness? Order? Self-preservation? And at the same time we can ignore our own sin of exploitation of others and indeed of all creation.
Do we want to follow the ways of the world about this, or are we called to something else? In our first reading from Isaiah, God says through the prophet: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” God does not hold our past against us! I’ll repeat that: God does not hold our past against us! God is looking to make something new out of us and our world, a world free of violence and vengeance, free of hatred and fear. Yes, we still need to work for justice and peace; we will still have to discern between right and wrong; and we may still need to speak uncomfortable and unpopular truths, but I don’t see how picking up stones to throw at each other (or worse) gets us to the kingdom.
As St. Paul says in our second reading from Philippians, we may not have full “possession” of the Gospel, but we strain “forward to what lies ahead,” continuing our “pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”
Fr. Phil, CP