Spirituality of the Readings
It is a scene from a nightmare. Yet it turns out well.
Pretend that you are the woman in Sunday’s Gospel. You have been “caught in adultery,” a shocking sin. The officials shove you into a mob of people.
They see your hot shame and how it burns. They recite the ancient law of Moses: “The sacred law says you must be stoned to death for your crime.”
Stoned to death! The sin is bad enough, humiliation is bad enough!
There was a man everyone called the “Teacher.” He had been captivating the crowd just before you were dragged in. Now you have become the center of attention. The nightmare gets worse.
But there is more. By means of your humiliation the accusers want to trap not only you but the Teacher as well, and to disgrace him. They are using you for this purpose. Now you see that your devastation is a mere tool!
They question the Teacher. Doesn’t he agree you should be stoned to death? They have him in the snare, this “teacher,” this dreamer who always preaches about forgiveness and love. If he defends you for the sake of his so-called love, he will break the law of Moses! If he does not he must follow the law, pick up a stone and throw it.
Teacher leans down and scratches absent-mindedly in the dirt. People hold their breath, the accusers worry. Why is he silent and what will he say? Now they have some nerves of their own.
Let us figure out his answer. It could be that the Teacher is thinking something like this:
He might be praying, “My Abba has loved each of them through all ages, no matter whether they were sinners or not. ‘Be my people,’ Abba always begged them.” For “Father” he is using an Arabic word that expresses both familiarity and respect, “Abba.” “Love one another. I love you, and I forgive your sins.” But hatred is their motto, not love. They want death to happen.
They shout again, “What is your answer? Shall we follow the law and stone this sinful woman?”
Remember, you are that woman, and you stand in humiliation, cheeks hot and tears falling. Your heart says, in terror, “the accusers are right!”
But the teacher lifts his head. He utters a sentence that sums up the Gospel and all of Lent.
Let the one among you who is without sin throw the first stone.
The crowd creeps away, submerged in their own consciences. Now you stand alone before this quiet Teacher, and your terror is quieted. There is something about him that carries you, brings you out to solid ground.
“Well, where are they,” he asks. “Has no one condemned you?” You say, “No one, sir.” He also asks, “Do you condemn yourself?”
You spend a long time on this answer, because it is so very hard. Finally you whisper, “I do not want to condemn myself, Teacher.”
“Neither do I condemn you,” answers Jesus. “Go and sin no more.”
This scene could refashion the whole earth. If we could each accept our own sinfulness as well as the forgiveness that surrounds it, we would have peace. We would drink compassion from God, who has been there all along, tracing in the sand.
We stammer at last, “I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.”
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University