Gospel reading: John 8:1-11
Michel de Verteuil
There are three people in today’s passage:
• the woman;
• the group called “scribes and Pharisees”;
As always, in your meditation you must let yourself enter the story from the viewpoint of one of the three.
•The woman was guilty of a sexual sin, but her story evokes any experience of having done something shameful in a moment of great vulnerability.
•The scribes and Pharisees are typical of powerful people who have no feeling for the weak. There are several things about them that might touch you: that they have singled out this one sin for condemnation; that they are using the woman to score points against Jesus; or that they use pious phrases to mask their cruelty – all types of behaviour that are easily recognizable.
•This picture of Jesus is one of the most touching in the gospels; look at his action of bending down and writing on the ground. It suggests tremendous inner strength which, in a non-violent way, unmasks the hypocrisy of the accusers.
“Those who live in constant terror of their own sins are powerless to accomplish anything in the world.” …Berdyaev
Lord, there was a time when the feeling of guilt had us paralyzed.
We felt condemned by voices within us:
• sermons we had heard in our childhood threatening us with hell fire;
• teachers who told us we had to be perfect.
We felt as if we were standing in full view of our accusers
and they were condemning us as deserving of death.
We thank you, Lord, that you sent us, at that moment,
a wise and kind person, who stayed with us, saying nothing,
just being there like Jesus bent down and writing on the ground,
until, very gradually, as the weeks went by,
the harsh accusing voices were silenced, one by one,
beginning from the most deeply rooted,
and eventually we were standing there knowing you were looking at us,
and telling us that we were now free to go out and lead a good and creative life.
“All condemnation is of the devil. We condemn others
only because we shun condemning ourselves.” …St Seraphim of Sarov
Lord, we who are community leaders in the Church or the country
often have to point out people’s faults.
Help us to do so without condemning them.
But that is not easy; we have to listen to our innermost selves,
waiting patiently until every scribe and Pharisee within us has walked away
because only then do we have the right to look at another and say, “Go, and sin no more.”
Lord, just as in the time of Jesus, society pronounces its harshest judgments
on those who are caught committing sexual sins, especially if they are women.
Authorities will always single them out and make them stand in full view of everybody,
insisting that in the name of religion they must condemn such persons to death by stoning.
We pray, Lord, that your Church will be like Jesus,
pointing out the hypocrisy of the accusers,
and protecting the dignity of those who have sinned.
“One form of gentleness we should practice is towards ourselves. It is reasonable to be displeased and sorry when we commit faults, but not fretful or spiteful to ourselves.“ …St Francis de Sales
Lord, teach us to look at ourselves with respect and compassion,
as Jesus looked at the woman taken in adultery
when he was left alone with her and she remained standing before him.
Lord, send us leaders like Jesus,
who will stand with the weak and the vulnerable against their oppressors,
not aggressively, but calmly, so that the oppressors walk away of their own accord,
and the weak find the space to create a good life for themselves.
Lord, we remember a time when we were using a Bible passage to condemn someone,
and quite suddenly the passage came alive for us,
and we saw that we were condemning the other for what we were guilty of ourselves,
so that we let the stone fall from our hands and went our way.
**********************************************Today we read one of the most moving passages in the whole of the gospels: a woman, a wife who had been caught committing adultery is brought before Jesus so that he can be tested to see if he will ‘do the right thing’ and say she should be stoned. Jesus asks for the man who is not a sinner among the accusers to begin the stoning, and the group melts away one by one. Jesus does not condemn the woman for her conduct, but challenges her to begin life afresh.
This is the challenge Jesus puts to us each Lent:
begin life afresh and let others begin life afresh after they have hurt us. Let us reflect that we are all sinners, we are in need of mercy, and we need to make fresh starts.
This little section of the four gospels has caused so much trouble to those who produce copies of New Testament (both in manuscript and in print), to exegetes, to theologians, and to preachers that it has had a special name for more than a millennium: the pericope de adultera. One thing upon which all modern scholars are agreed is that it is not part of the original gospel of John. However, if it is not part of John’s original text, it has all the signs of a genuine piece of oral tradition that circulated within the memory of the communities, especially in some churches in the West, and which subsequently embedded itself in the canonical text either at this point in John or after Lk 21:38. However, while normally such matters of textual criticism are irrelevant, here they add more complexity. Usually, omissions in manuscripts or silence among commentators indicates simply non- knowledge of the piece of text (e.g. no Greek Father or theologian before the twelfth century comments on the text, while the few Latins who do so usually provide a ‘health warning’ before doing so), but here we know that there were deliberate omissions of the text and positive refusals to preach on it before women lest they take it as indicative of the non-seriousness of adultery, (note that until the sixth century adultery, along with murder and apostasy, were seen as the greatest sins), or that men might think it subversive of good order in society. So what have we got? We have a genuine piece of early Christian tradition that was not included by any of the four canonical evangelists, but which survived and which became frozen in writing. Even though it was not too much to the liking of many, so convinced were some communities of its expression of genuine Christian tradition that they — after the appearance of the notion that genuine tradition was confined to the four canonical gospels — sought a location for the periscope either here or in Luke. The periscope message being at once so startling that the communities believed it represented, somehow, a core message of Jesus, yet at the same time being so shocked by it that they were embarrassed by it.
It is worth noting that there is no question in the periscope that the woman was innocent: she is guilty of the crime as charged having being caught in flagrant. The notion that Jesus saved an innocent woman is a far more palatable message; and sometimes this notion of ‘vindicated innocence’ even creeps into scholarly exegesis. Equally, there is no notion that she has to make ‘satisfaction’ as found in many medieval and modern theologies of the sacrament of penance which employ a processional model of reconciliation (the processus iustificationis), i.e. of contrition, confession, satisfaction, and absolution. The woman is not addressed about the past in any way.
Homily notes1. The gospel does not invite a narrative, a story, or a single ‘message’; rather it demands we reflect on some very common attitudes. The homily could point out some or all of the following ‘points’. However, beware of ‘watering down’ this text as has happened so frequently: it is deeply disturbing of many attitudes common among Christians and nonChristians alike.
2. This is a text that many over the entire history of Christianity have wanted to disappear – quite literally – in that they chose not to copy it in their copies of the gospels. Moreover, when it was included in the gospel text – it is now part of the standard Greek text and has been present in the Latin text since the beginning – it was the incident that preachers and writers commented upon least frequently, at least in the period before AD 1000, and it has only become popular with preachers in the last century or so. The reasons for these objections and hesitancies are usually quite openly stated in the traditions:
first, it is socially disruptive as a husband must have leverage over his wife’s sexuality – and even if there is no stoning, then there must be some threat and warning;
second, what husband could find Christianity an acceptable religion when this gives a wife such license – there must be a price for adultery or it brings the ‘gospel’ into disrepute;
and thirdly this seems to present Jesus as ‘soft on sin’ or on the need for penitence – this hesitation has been to the fore in recent centuries.
3. This text therefore raises the whole issue of what is Christianity about: is it a social control system or the Way to the Father who is forgiveness?
4. This text presents a male-centred universe: it is a wife who is accused, it is men who pass judgement, and it is men to see their rights/ property misused. The copyists, writers, and preachers who ignored the text or were hesitant about it, all viewed the text from the standpoint of men and the control of society. It reminds us that Christianity emerged in a malecentred world and has in many ways colluded in that world. Just recall that no man could be stoned for adultery. This is a worldview we see challenged by Jesus – in him there is no male or female (cf Gal 4:4) – yet as our history of hesitance over this text shows, this is a part of Jesus’ proclamation that most preachers (men) have been most unwilling to take on board.
5. We have to acknowledge that men and women are not treated equally in the tradition of Christianity.
6. One writer, St Ambrose (c. 339-397), did tackle the text but his concern was with the question of the death penalty: if only one without sin can throw the first stone, then can we inflict the death penalty? He recognised, even then, that the call for the death penalty arose from desires for revenge rather than for rehabilitation. This is still a major issue today where many Christians still support the notion of an eye for an eye and do not see that the Christian vision of morality is based on love, forgiveness, and helping people to start anew rather than on retribution and retaliation. So the text challenges us to see if we really believe in the call to repentance and renewal of Jesus, or whether that is something we only want for ourselves and those with us.
7. There is no mention in the gospel of the notion of penitential reparation – she is not told to do penance but to sin no more. This silence has troubled many Catholic theologians down the centuries, especially since the Council of Trent. Do we reduce the new life that God offers us into a system of ‘paying back’ and clearing bills: this reduces reconciliation to a set of laundry lists and bills, and makes the divine mercy into a banking system of tabs and repayments.
8. The story exposes a basic message of the Christ: the divine mercy is greater than law.
9. Note the absolute death of the past of the woman before Jesus: ‘Go and sin no more.’ Much to the annoyance of many Christian writers there is not even a ‘stern moral word’ for the woman. Needless to say writers do not suggest that Jesus was wrong on this count; they rather suggest that in the copies to which they have access there might be something omitted! The story presents us with a past that is wholly over, and the only thing now is to start afresh. This absolute death of the past is good news.
10. In a world where people are unable to let the past be past but want to continually re-open old wounds and seek retribution and retaliation, then any new vision / life is strangled at birth.
This raises many ‘points to ponder’:
• are desires for vengeance present in our lives?
• how present is a desire to moralise?
• do we see religion as a ‘control system’?
• do we see God as mercy or the final reckoner dealing out
• do we project a God-image of a ‘dealer of retribution’?
• how willing are we to let others let go of their past?
**********************************************3. Sean Goan
This Sunday we break with the gospel of Luke and take a story from the gospel of John. It has been selected because it deals with the theme of forgiveness. As with last Sunday’s gospel, so too here we see two different attitudes to the mercy of God. This time, however, it is not in a parable but in a real incident in which those with a narrow view of the mercy of God wish to use the misery of this woman as an opportunity for point scoring against Jesus. For the Pharisees, the scriptures are being read with a view to making them powerful as judges and experts in the Law. For Jesus, the scriptures are to be read as a way to understand the overwhelming mercy of God. In highlighting their hypocrisy, Jesus calls them to repentance. In highlighting God’s love for her, he calls the woman to a new life.
‘No need to recall the past’ is the jubilant cry from the prophet in the first reading as he tells the people to look around them and discover that God is as concerned with saving them as he was with saving their ancestors in Egypt. Paul too, from his prison cell, is able to speak words that resound with hope and this is because through Jesus he has become aware of the presence of God with him in all the circumstances of his life. He can also say, ‘I forget the past because he knows that each new day offers an opportunity to come to know the love of God, a love which always triumphs over suffering and death. The woman is the gospel also discovers that she can leave the past behind because the encounter with Christ has brought her to a new day. As we draw close to Holy Week, we are invited to recognise that in the saving mystery of Easter God is always doing a new thing.
**********************************************4. Donal Neary S.J.
More than forgivenessThis is a powerful story of justice and mercy. Jesus is on the side of the woman who has been accused of sin and crime. It was an unjust accusation, and the people who brought her had little good in mind.
Jesus offers more than forgiveness – he brings mercy. Mercy forgives with compassion and doesn’t need lectures. It restores dignity to the victims of injustice like the lady in this story. It is the same in Jesus, for those who do not receive their dignity because of something they are, or something they did and are unjustly treated.
Jesus’ fiery heart of mercy
Jesus did not condemn; he turns the tables a bit. He simply says: Anyone here without sin – take the stone and throw it. Nobody does. In this atmosphere of darkness we need to hear something of the love and the mercy of God. Would light of mercy come into their darkness of condemnation? Would they leave their darkness into a personal space where they might have a change of heart?
This is also about the challenge to live honestly and without sin; and to be able to takes steps like this woman’s life, to move on. All hear this word from Jesus – I do not condemn you. This comes to our society and to ourselves. We need to hear this word for ourselves as often we throw stones at ourselves more than at others. What we condemn in others is what sometimes we do not like in ourselves.
Lord may we enter this world of mercy wherever we need to.
May we hear these words always, ‘I do not condemn you’
From the Connections:
The Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Lent in Year C of the common lectionary is the Fourth Gospel’s account of Mary anointing Jesus feet with perfume. This incident takes place six days after Jesus’ raising of Mary’s brother Lazarus from the dead, just before Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem. As the evangelist notes in the verses immediately preceding today’s Gospel, Lazarus’ coming back from the dead has all of Jerusalem buzzing – and not all of it is good.
Jesus comes to Bethany, to the home of his good friends, Lazarus, Mary and the ever-busy-with-hospitality Martha. Mary welcomes Jesus by anointing his feet – not washing them with water, the usual courtesy – but with nard, a very expensive fragrance imported from Northern India. This precious spice must have cost Mary everything she had. Her extravagant act rocked her sister’s dinner party – but how can you adequately thank someone who gave you back your brother?
Judas, the keeper of the company’s purse, objects at this wasteful extravagance (the Fourth Gospel’s description of Judas here is the most devastating picture we have of Judas in the Gospels: he is described as a thief, a manipulator, a betrayer). While Judas’ protests sound reasonable, he’s not fooling anyone. Jesus deflects Judas’ objections. Mary’s act of kindness is exalted by Jesus as a prelude to the wonders that are to come.
HOMILY POINTS:Mary’s act in today’s Gospel is not a matter of extravagance and waste but one of gratitude and love. Her gift comes not from the extra she could spare but from her own need, her own poverty. She expresses with a liter of ointment a love she feels in the depths of her soul, a love that is beyond any words she knows to adequately express it.
In today’s Gospel, while Judas and the other guests deride Mary for her ostentatious display, Jesus graciously accepts her act of loving hospitality. In doing so, Jesus transforms her humiliation into joy, her ridiculous display into a prayerful offering. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus lifts up and calls forth the good from everyone he meets — from the most despised tax collector to a little boy’s offering of his lunch. As Jesus transforms the lives of these “real” people, so we are called to do the same: to accept one another, to love one another as God has accepted us and lifted us up and loved us.
Broken as an act of welcome to her beloved friend, later to be broken as an act of courageous compassion to anoint the body of the crucified Jesus — Mary’s small jar of spices is an example to all of us of the “fragrance” of joy and peace, of comfort and care with which we can fill our own houses when we “break” our own “vessels” for the sake of those we love.
Doodles before stonesWriter Anne Lamott’s life is a story of resurrection — from a train wreck of booze and drugs and destructive relationships to creating, as a single mom, a loving home for her son Sam and establishing her own solid, grounded relationship with God. With humor and insight, she has written about her finding God in the joys and messes of the everyday. In her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Lamott reflects on today’s Gospel:
“In John 8, when the woman is about to be stoned by the Pharisees for adultery, we see Jesus doodling in the sand. The Pharisees, the officially good people, are acting well within the law when they condemn the woman to death. A huge crowd of people willing to kill her joins them. The Greatest Hits moment here comes when Jesus challenges the crowd: ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ But the more interesting stuff happens before, when he leaves the gathering storm, goes off by himself, and starts doodling.
“Jesus refused to interact with the people on their level of hatred and madness. He draws in the sand for a time. The Gospel doesn’t say [what’s he’s drawing]. But when he finally faces the mob and responds, all the people who were going to kill the woman have disappeared.
“You have to wonder: Where was the man with whom she committed adultery? Some people suggest he was in the crowd, waiting to join in with the others and kill her. We don’t know. But I can guess how the condemned woman must have felt — surprised. She was supposed to die, and her life was spared. Hope always catches us by surprise.”
Christ calls us to embrace a new perspective of humankind: that we are brothers and sisters to one another; that we are called not to be judges or self-appointed executors of God’s wrath on others (God reserves that to himself) but to be agents of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation; that we should find no satisfaction in the fall of sinners but should only be satisfied when we have done all we can to lift them up and restore them to hope. “Hate the sin but love the sinner” is easier said than done. We’re capable of justifying the destruction and exile of anyone who does not meet our standards of conduct. But to be faithful disciples of the Easter Christ is to drop our stones of condemnation and self-righteousness and help restore and heal the lost, the troubled, the disappointed with whom we share the compassion of God.
From Fr. Tony Kadavil:
1: Divine mercy on Chuck Colson: Probably, Chuck Colson (Charles Chuck Wendell Colson, 1931-2012) got his evil inspiration from John Profumo to make a scandalous and serious violation of law and served seven months in the Federal Prison, Maxwell, Alabama, for acting as President Nixon’s “hatchet man” in the Watergate Scandal. After his prison term, Colson became an Evangelical Christian leader who founded Prison Fellowship and Breakpoint. He was the founder and chairman of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, which is “a research, study, and networking center for growing in a Christian worldview.” While Colson lived, the Center’s work included Colson’s daily radio commentary, Break Point, which was heard in its original format on more than 1,400 outlets across the United States. Colson was a principal signer of the 1994 Evangelicals and Catholics Together ecumenical document. He was joined by leading Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholic leaders in the United States. Today’s Gospel describes how Jesus restored a sinful woman by lavishing on her his Divine mercy and forgiveness. She may have become Christ’s follower bearing witness to his mercy till her death. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
2) Second chance: Dr. A.J. Cronin was a great Christian physician in England. One night he assigned a young nurse to a little boy who had been brought to the hospital suffering from diphtheria and given only a slight chance to live. A tube was inserted into the boy’s throat to help him breathe. It was the nurse’s job periodically to clean out the tube. As the nurse sat beside the boy’s bed, she accidentally dozed off. She awakened to find that the tube had become blocked. Instead of following instructions, she was immobilized by panic. Hysterically she called the doctor from his home. By the time he got to the boy, he was dead. Dr. Cronin was angry beyond expression. That night Dr. Cronin went to his office and wrote his recommendation to the board demanding the immediate expulsion of the nurse. He called her in and read it, his voice trembling with anger. She stood there in pitiful silence, a tall, thin, gawky Welsh girl. She nearly fainted with shame and remorse. “Well,” asked Dr. Cronin in a harsh voice, “have you nothing to say for yourself?” There was more silence. Then she uttered this pitiful plea, “…please give me another chance.” Dr. Cronin sent her away. But he could not sleep that night. He kept hearing some words from the dark distance: “Forgive us our trespasses.” The next morning Dr. Cronin went to his desk and tore up the report. In the years that followed he watched as this slim, nervous girl became the head of a large hospital and one of the more honored nurses in England. Thank God for a second chance, and a third chance, and fourth chance! Do you need to encounter God’s forgiveness? He died on a cross to make it available
3: How to Clean Practically Anything — except sin! Consumers Report put out a little book entitled, How to Clean Practically Anything. The book tells you what solvent to use for nearly every kind of stain. Here are a few. Glycerin will remove the stain from a ball point pen. Boiling water will remove berry stains. Vinegar will remove crayon stains. To remove a rust stain from your cotton work clothes, moisten the spot with some full-strength vinegar and then rub in a bit of salt. Ammonia will remove blood stains. Alcohol will remove grass stains. Hydrogen peroxide is good for magic marker stains. Mix a teaspoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide with a little cream of tartar or a dab of non-gel toothpaste. Rub the paste on the stain with a soft cloth. Rinse. The stain, whatever it was, should be gone. Try a little meat tenderizer to remove protein-based stains like milk, chocolate, and blood from clothes. Use bleach on mildew stains. Lemon juice works well on rust stains. But you know what? The book lists absolutely nothing for the stain of sin. And the reason it doesn’t is because there is only One Person Who can do that. Only Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of Divine Mercy, as described in today’s Gospel, can forgive us our sins when we repent, confess our sins, and ask God’s pardon and forgiveness.
# 4: Mother Teresa on the sacrament of Divine Mercy: While Mother Teresa is certainly famous for the charity with which she poured herself out in love for Christ in the distressing disguise of lepers, AIDS victims, the dying, and the untouchables, she was likewise a great “Missionary of Mercy” in calling everyone to receive Jesus’ forgiving love in the Sacrament of Confession, a Sacrament she received at least once a week. She would counsel others, “One thing is necessary for us: Confession. Confession is nothing but humility in action. We call it Penance, but really it is a Sacrament of Love, a Sacrament of forgiveness. It is a place where I allow Jesus to take away from me everything that divides, that destroys. Confession is a beautiful act of great love. Only in confession can we go in as sinners with sin and come out as sinners without sin. … There’s no need for us to despair, no need for us to commit suicide, no need for us to be discouraged, if we have understood the tenderness of God’s love.” She said elsewhere, very simply, “Confession is Jesus and I, and nobody else.” And then she told us, “Remember this for life.”
5. Mary’s stone: Here is an old but funny story. The Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery before Jesus for judgment and Jesus says, “Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone at her.” There is a sudden silence. But then all at once a small stone comes flying from the back of the crowd aimed at the head of the woman, and Jesus promptly catches it. Looking at the lady standing in the crowd Jesus said, “Mother! Really! I was trying to make a point, here.” The assumption is that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was immaculately conceived and hence sinless and so she was eligible to throw a stone. But if Jesus himself did not condemn the woman, why should his mother do so?
6. Pastor and Farmer: “Do you smoke, drink or curse?” The pastor asked the old farmer. It was a hesitant, “Well, every once in a while.” “You know, John, I don’t smoke, drink, or cuss…” “Yessuh, pastor, but you don’t farm either…!”
7. Gary Dearing told a story about his Air Force Colonel, who served as inspector general of his command, and paid particular attention to how personnel wore their uniforms. “On one occasion the Colonel spotted a junior airman with a violation. ‘Airman,’ he bellowed, ‘What do you do when a shirt pocket is unbuttoned?’ The startled airman replied, ‘Button it, sir!’ The Colonel looked him in the eye and said, ‘Well?’ At that, the airman nervously reached over and buttoned the Colonel’s shirt pocket.”
19 additional anecdotes:
1) Ann Landers: Some time ago a lady wrote to the famous advice columnist Ann Landers and asked this question, “Do all men cheat on their wives? I have been suspicious of my husband for some time. I even hired a private detective to trail him, but he couldn’t come up with a thing. I went to a lawyer. He told me to grow up and accept the fact that all husbands fool around. Do they?” Ann Landers very wisely replied, “No. There are plenty of married men who never cheat, and your husband could be one of them. The only thing you can be fairly sure of is that your lawyer cheats on his wife.” Cheating on one’s wife or husband is called adultery in the Bible. It is prohibited by the Sixth Commandment.
2) The Scarlet Letter: In 1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter. Its setting was a Puritan community in Boston in early New England. Hawthorne’s novel tells the story of Hester Prynne who was forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” for “adultery” because she had given birth to an illegitimate child and refused to name the father. The child’s father was none other than the community’s minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. Hester bore the letter, the public scorn and the humiliation alone, while the minister had merely to bear the pangs of conscience. After many years the minister finally confessed his secret sin to the people and later died in peace. Hester continued to wear her letter, and went on to live like a saint bringing happiness to her disturbed illegitimate daughter and helping others in their troubles. The townsfolk said the letter stood, not for Adultery as it had done but now for Able, and a sign of honor. The Scarlet Letter has some similarities with today’s Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery.
3) John Profumo – a sinner restored: The story of John Profumo (91) (1915-2006) is that of a man who made one terrible mistake but sought his own redemption in a way which has no precedent in public life either before or since. No one in public life ever did more to atone for his sins; no one behaved with more silent dignity as his name was repeatedly dragged through the mud. Profumo’s transgression came when the Tories had been in power for 11 years. He was then a promising Secretary of State for War, married to the actress Valerie Hobson, one of Britain’s leading actresses of stage and screen in the 1940s and 1950s. But he had a secret relationship with Christine Keeler, a call-girl who had been – separately – seeing the Russian naval attaché and spy, Yevgeny Ivanov. This was at the height of the Cold War. When this matter was brought to light, Profumo made the matter worse by lying to the House of Commons. Later, he had a change of heart, went to the Prime Minister, confessed his guilt, and resigned on June 5, 1963 from the Cabinet in shame. Filled with remorse, Profumo never sought to justify himself or seek public sympathy. Instead, for the next four decades he devoted himself to Toynbee Hall, a charitable settlement at Spitalfields in the East End of London. He began by washing dishes, helping with the playgroup and collecting rents. Later he served with the charity’s council, eventually becoming its chairman and then president. From his tiny office at Toynbee Hall, Profumo kept up a ceaseless flow of letters to anyone who might be able to speak, give money or do anything to assist the charity in its work of helping the poor and down-and-outs in the East End. Largely through his efforts, Toynbee Hall became a national institution. Profumo’s dedication and dignity won him enormous admiration from people in all walks of life. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called him “one of our national heroes.” When he was sixty years old, at the 1975 Honors Party honoring distinguished citizens, Elizabeth II, the Queen of England, named John Profumo, the sinner, among the distinguished citizens of her realm. Thus he was fully restored. (“http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1512656/John-Profumo.html). Today’s Gospel describes how Jesus restored a sinful woman by lavishing on her his Divine mercy and forgiveness. She may have become Christ’s follower bearing witness to his mercy till her death.
4) Jesus and the Fallen Woman: The woman caught in adultery described in today’s Gospel has inspired a wide variety of Christian art. The most striking is Jesus and the Fallen Woman,” by Lucas Cranach, the Younger (c. 1570), now exhibited, as is Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son” in The Hermitage at St. Petersburg. At the front center of the painting are Jesus and the woman. Cranach captures that moment when Jesus turns toward the accusers and challenges those without sin to cast a stone. His expression is stern but troubled, and his right hand reaches out toward the woman. Most remarkable, the woman is not bowed to the ground in front of Jesus as in much art work, but is standing at his left. She is very young, with eyes closed, looking forlorn and resigned to her fate. Her head is inclined toward Jesus’ shoulder, and her hand rests on his arm. Most striking, as one follows the lines of the painting, is that her right hand is entwined with the left hand of Jesus in a gesture of exquisite tenderness. The hands of mercy are joined to the hands of a suffering person facing execution. Jesus and the young woman in Cranach’s painting can be our guides through Lent and Paschaltide. With heads inclined toward Christ and hands intertwined with his, we can go forward as forgiven sinners, yet called to be companions of Jesus.
5) Love and marriage are a cycle. Some time back Ann Landers received a beautiful letter from a wife in Ohio. She wrote, “My husband is a laborer. He leaves home at 7:00 AM and puts in long, hard days at work. If he can get overtime, he grabs it. When he comes home at night, he paints the house, fixes whatever is broken, and helps with the kids. At the end of the week he hands me his paycheck and apologizes because it isn’t more. He never complains when I give him ground meat in eleven different shapes. At night when he puts his arms around me and pulls me close, I feel that whatever I’ve done for him was not enough. Love and marriage are a cycle. The more you do for a man, the more he loves you. The more he loves you, the more he tries to do for you. And so it goes, round and round. It’s so simple. Why don’t more people figure it out?” One thing is sure…that lady in Ohio won’t have adultery problems; nor will anyone with a marriage of that quality. Their lifestyle follows the command of St. Paul: “Honor Christ by being servants of each other.” (Ephesians 5:21)
6) “Where was the Garden of Eden?” Dr. Carlyle Marney was asked a question by one of his freshman students one day. The student asked, “Where was Eden?” Dr. Marney put down his pen, turned to the college freshman, and replied, “I can tell you exactly, in Tennessee.” “What?” gasped the student. “Knoxville, Tennessee, 215 South Elm Street,” Marney insisted. “It was there on Elm Street, when I was a boy, that I stole a quarter out of Mama’s purse and ran to the store and bought a bag of peanut clusters and ate it as fast as I could. Afterward, I was so ashamed that I came back home to 215 Elm Street and hid in the closet. Mom found me and asked, ‘Why are you hiding? What have you done?'” [“Geography Lesson,” Herald of Holiness, February 1996, p. 2]. I personally don’t think anybody needs help locating their own Eden, do you? That’s the place where we first knowingly betrayed and disobeyed God. Our Eden is that situation or that place where we first discovered that we suffer from the same disease as Adam and Eve and every other human being in existence. We suffer from the debilitating symptoms of sin. Now, pick up a stone. Hold the stone in your hand and think about your Eden. Hold the stone in your hand and wrap that thought, that memory, that time of Eden in your life around the stone. Those moments stick with us and weigh us down and drag us down and slow us down and bring us down. But here’s the Good News. We don’t have to be weighed down by the weight of sin, God wants to lift us up. The God Jesus revealed to us is a God who patiently waits for His wayward children to come back home.
7) Guilty: Dr. Karl Menninger, well-known psychiatrist, wrote a book a few years ago entitled, Whatever Became of Sin? In it, he reported how a stern, plainly dressed man appeared on a busy corner of Chicago’s Loop. As people passed by, he would from time-to-time solemnly lift his arm and point to a passerby and say just one word; “Guilty!” Then without changing expression, he would drop his arm. After a few seconds, he would raise his arm again, and with an accusing finger pointing at another person, he would utter that one-word indictment: “Guilty!” The effect of this on the people on was extraordinary. Some stared, started to laugh, then stopped, hesitated, looked around with furtive glances, and hurried on with quickened step. One passerby turned to a companion and exclaimed, “But how did he know?” We do not have to have an eccentric street preacher pointing an accusing finger to remind us of our guilt. We have more authentic inside information. We call it conscience or God’s voice within us.
8) “Turn it over.” John R. Aurelio, in his book Colors: Stories of the Kingdom(Amazon.com), gives us a beautiful portrayal of this side of God. He writes: On the sixth day, God created Father Adam and Mother Eve. On the seventh day, as God was resting, they asked Him if He would give them something special to commemorate their birthday. So, God reached into His treasure chest and took out a sacred coin. Written on it was the word “LOVE.” On the eighth day, Father Adam and Mother Eve sinned. As they left the Garden of Eden, they asked God for an assurance that He would not abandon them. “You have the coin,” He told them. “But, the coin says LOVE,” they answered. “We have lost love. However will we find it again?” “Turn it over,” God said. On the other side of the coin was written the word “FORGIVENESS.” There is great truth in that. There is no love without forgiveness and there is no forgiveness without love. They are the two sides of the same coin. And the Good News is that God loves you no matter what you’ve done or what you’ve thought of doing. God loves you. That’s the bottom line: God loves you. And God wants each of us to turn over the coin.
9) “Christ said, ‘I don’t remember.’” In his book, A Forgiving God in an Unforgiving World, Ron Lee Davis tells the true story of a priest in the Philippines, a much-loved man of God who carried the burden of a secret sin he had committed many years ago. He had repented but still had no peace about it. In his parish was a woman who deeply loved God and who claimed to have visions in which she spoke with Christ. The priest, however, was skeptical about that. To test her he said, “The next time you speak with Christ, ask him what sin I committed while I was in the high school.” The woman agreed. A few days later the priest asked, “Well, did Christ visit you in your dreams?” “Yes, he did,” she replied. “And did you ask him what sin I committed back in high school?” “Yes.” “And what did he say?” She smiled and answered, “Christ said, ‘I don’t remember.’ “
10) “Who will cast the first stone?” There is a down-home story about a small-town veterinarian who had invented an instrument with which, he boasted, even a child could administer a capsule to a horse, no matter how unruly or reluctant the horse might be. One summer the vet went to county fair to demonstrate his new invention. They couldn’t find anyone who would permit his horse to be a part of the experiment, but they did find a mule, and soon a crowd had gathered to watch. Undaunted, the veterinarian inserted a long glass tube into the mouth of the mule, inserted a capsule in the other end, took a deep breath and put his mouth to the free end of the tube. But the mule blew first! Now that story reminds us that when we tell others what is good for them, we better be prepared to swallow the same ourselves. So, the theme of our homily today is “Who will cast the first stone?”
11)“Every Jew must die before he will commit idolatry, murder or adultery.”According Jewish law, adultery was among the most serious crimes. The Rabbi said, “Every Jew must die before he will commit idolatry, murder or adultery.” So, adultery was one of the three gravest sins. The law was quite clear on the matter. Though there were certain differences in the way the death penalty was to be carried out, yet there was no question — death was the penalty for adultery. The woman knew this. Can you get even a faint hint of the despair, the anguish, the ravaging shame, and hopelessness that gripped this wretch of a creature, this “soiled plaything of men” as they came dragging her into the presence of Jesus. And where was the man who was her partner in sin? In the Mishnah which was the code of Jewish law, it was stated that the penalty for adultery was strangulation for both man and woman. Even the method of strangulation is laid down. “The man is to be enclosed in dung up to his knees, and a soft towel set within a rough towel to be placed around his neck (in order that no mark may be made, for the punishment is God’s punishment.) Then one man draws in one direction and another in the other direction, until he be dead.” (Barclay, The Daily Bible Study, The Gospel of John, Vol. 2, p. 2).
12) “There it is. That’s it, my life.” In the movie, With Honors, Joe Pesci plays Simon Wilder a homeless man slowly dying from asbestos poisoning. Brendan Fraser portrays Montgomery ‘Monty’ Kessler, a student at Harvard who has reluctantly befriended Simon. In one of their conversations Simon pulls out a leather pouch and says, “There it is. That’s it, my life.” He dumps a bunch of stones out in his hand, picks up one and says, “I got this one on a beach in Bali. Best night’s sleep I ever had.” Monty asks, “You remember one night of sleep?” Simon says, “Last good one I had.” Monty then asks, “What’s that shiny white one?” “A woman. The one. The one true love. Yep, each stone tells a story that I want to remember. All I do is put them in my hand and rub them and abracadabra, I’m back there.” They walk on and Monty asks, “Tell me about the woman.” Simon says, “I can’t. I’m not holding the stone.” You know, there are a lot of stones and rocks in the Bible. There’s Peter the Rock who sank like a rock when tried to walk on water. There are the stones, which Jesus said would break into song on Palm Sunday if the people didn’t sing. There’s the stone that sealed the tomb, which was rolled away so we could see inside and see that no mere grave could hold the Son of God. There are the stones used to build the Temple. And then there are the stones you’re holding in your hand, the ones related to the passage for the day. You might call these stones, the First Stones. Let’s look at the passage for today.
13) Our spirituality and our sexuality are vitally connected. Fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness are expressions of our spirituality. Our spirituality and our sexuality are vitally connected. There is a mystery here; something more than meets the eye. Scott Peck says the sexual and spiritual parts of our personalities lie so close together that it is hardly possible to arouse one without the other. C.K. Chesterton put it this way, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” Lewis Smedes put it this way, “Nobody can go to bed with someone and leave his soul parked outside.” Back when I used to do a lot of marriage counseling, David Mace was my hero. David tells about a client who said, “My husband and I always have prayer before we make love.” “I was curious,” says David, “so I asked her what they said.” “Well,” she replies, “we relax in each other’s arms and my husband says, ‘For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.'” May their numbers increase! The vital connection between our spirituality and our sexuality is an essential link that the Church needs to help people to understand.
14) The Legend of Bagger Vance: There’s a great scene in the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance which illustrates that point. If you remember the story from a few weeks ago, Bagger Vance is about a mythical golf match in the 1930’s between golf legends Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and a hometown ace Rannulph Junuh. As a teenager, Junuh had Tiger Woods’ kind of skill and was destined to become something huge. But after a tour of duty during World War I, he came back changed and haunted. He tried to exorcise his demons through a reclusive life of alcohol and gambling. His former girlfriend persuaded him to join the match between two greats, even though he kept saying he had lost his swing. While Junuh was hitting practice balls one night, a transient caddy by the name of Bagger Vance entered his life, offered to help get him ready for the match and in the process helped him rediscover his passion both for life and for the game. In this scene Junuh had found his swing and things were going great for a while until he sliced one into the woods. As he entered the woods to find his ball, he was drawn back into the battle which had scarred his life so deeply, the battle of which he had been the only survivor. It all came crashing in on him and, as he reached to pick up his ball and call it quits, Bagger broke the spell and asked if he’d like a different club. Junuh said, “I can’t do this. You don’t understand.” Bagger says, “What I’m talking about is a game. A game that can’t be won, only played. Ain’t a soul on this earth ain’t got a burden to carry that he don’t understand. You ain’t alone in that. But you been carryin’ this one long enough. Time to go on. Lay it down.” Junuh says, “I don’t know how.” Bagger says, “You’ve got a choice. You can stop. Or you can start. Walkin’ right back to where you always been. And then stand there. Still. Real still. And remember.” Junuh says, “It’s too long ago.” Bagger says, “Oh, no sir. It was just a moment ago. Time for you to come on out the shadows, Junuh. Time for you to choose. You ain’t alone. I’m right here with ya. I’ve been here all along. Now play the game. Your game. The one that only you was meant to play. The one that was given to you when you come into this world. Strike that ball, Junuh. Don’t hold back. Give it everything. Now’s the time. Let yourself remember. Remember your swing.” Of course, it’s the movies and Junuh does. He makes a fantastic, unbelievable shot and in so doing steps out of the darkness of the shadows of his past and into the light of a New Life, as the person God created him to be. That is exactly what Jesus told this woman caught in sin – this woman used as a pawn to trap him. “It’s time for you to come on out of the shadows. It’s time for you to choose. You’re not alone. I’m right here with you. I have been here all along.” That’s what Jesus tells each of us. “It’s time to come out of the shadows and into My light. I’m right here with you and I have been all along. It’s time to walk in the light of life.” What does that mean, to walk in the light? Well, I think it means you have to let go of the past. You have to let go of the shadows and darkness. That’s the only way we can step into the light. Unfortunately, a lot of us don’t let go of the shadows. Sometimes the light seems too bright. We’re afraid to step into the light because we’re not ready to see ourselves as we really are. We’re afraid of what we’ll see and what God might see.
15) “The Selfish Giant.” Oscar Wilde’s story “The selfish Giant” has a great message. Every afternoon, the children used to go and play in the Giant’s garden. It was a large lovely garden, with soft green grass. Here and there over the grass stood beautiful flowers like stars, and there were twelve peach-trees that in the spring-time broke out into delicate blossoms of pink and pearl, and in the autumn bore rich fruit. The birds sat on the trees and sang so sweetly that the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them. “How happy we are here!” they cried to each other. One day the Giant came back. He had been to visit his friend the Cornish Ogre, and had stayed with him for seven years. When he arrived he saw the children playing in the garden. “My own garden is my own garden,” said the Giant; “and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself.” So he built a high wall all round it, and put up a notice-board. TRESPASSERS WILL BEPROSECUTED. The poor children had now nowhere to play. Then the Spring came, and all over the country there were little blossoms and little birds. Only in the garden of the Selfish Giant it was still winter. The birds did not care to sing in it as there were no children, and the trees forgot to blossom. “I cannot understand why the Spring is so late in coming,” said the Selfish Giant, as he sat at the window and looked out at his cold white garden; “I hope there will be a change in the weather.” But the Spring never came, nor the Summer. One morning, he saw a most wonderful sight. Through a little hole in the wall the children had crept in, and they were sitting in the branches of the trees. In every tree that he could see there was a little child. And the trees were so glad to have the children back again that they had covered themselves with blossoms. And the Giant’s heart melted as he looked out. “How selfish I have been!” he said. He took a great axe and knocked down the wall. Oscar Wilde’s story gives the picture of a man who has understood what he has done was wrong, and corrected himself by knocking down the walls that he has built. Today’s Gospel presents before us the picture of a woman who stood at the feet of Jesus with the realization that she had done wrong and she was ready to change her ways. Jesus’ reply to her was amazing, “Go away and don’t sin anymore.” (Fr. Bobby).
16) Doodles before stones: Writer Anne Lamott’s life is a story of resurrection — from a train wreck of booze and drugs and destructive relationships to creating, as a single mom, a loving home for her son Sam and establishing her own solid, grounded relationship with God. With humor and insight, she has written about her finding God in the joys and messes of the everyday. In her book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Lamott reflects on today’s Gospel: “In John 8, when the woman is about to be stoned by the Pharisees for adultery, we see Jesus doodling in the sand. The Pharisees, the officially good people, are acting well within the law when they condemn the woman to death. A huge crowd of people willing to kill her joins them. The Greatest Hits moment here comes when Jesus challenges the crowd: ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ But the more interesting stuff happens before, when he leaves the gathering storm, goes off by himself, and starts doodling. “Jesus refused to interact with the people on their level of hatred and madness. He draws in the sand for a time. The Gospel doesn’t say [what’s he’s drawing]. But when he finally faces the mob and responds, all the people who were going to kill the woman have disappeared.” You have to wonder: Where was the man with whom she committed adultery? Some people suggest he was in the crowd, waiting to join in with the others and kill her. We don’t know. But I can guess how the condemned woman must have felt — surprised. She was supposed to die, and her life was spared. Hope always catches us by surprise.” (Fr. Kayala).
17) “He doesn’t deserve mercy! ” The story is told of a young French soldier who deserted Napoleon’s army, but who within a matter of hours was caught by his own troops. To discourage soldiers from abandoning their posts the penalty for desertion was death. The young soldier’s mother heard what had happened and went to plead with Napoleon to spare the life of her son. Napoleon heard her plea but pointed out that because of the serious nature of the crime her son had committed he clearly did not deserve mercy. “I know he doesn’t deserve mercy” the mother answered. “It wouldn’t be mercy if he deserved it.” That’s the point about mercy: nobody deserves it. It is given freely! (Quoted by Fr. Jude Botelho).
18) Circus of judgment in the Church: I recently read a book about the circus when it traveled to small towns by train. The author described in detail the unofficial hierarchy of the traveling circus. From the ring master through various performers down to the roadies who set up the tents, everyone knew their place in the food chain. Even the freak show performers or side show acts created a system of evaluating their peers. As I read the book I couldn’t help thinking that you don’t have to join the circus to experience the cutting edge of judgment; just go to Church! We judge people by the color of their skin, the brand names of their clothes, type of car, their accent, athletic prowess, education musical ability, religious background, and the list goes on and on. Are you a tither? Do you have a daily quiet time? Do you watch R rated movies? Do you attend a Christian school or the pagan public schools? Have you ever looked at pornography? Are you Republican or Democrat? Are you Spirit-filled? Do you speak in tongues? Are you divorced? Are you one of the good-looking people, or did you get hit with the ugly stick a few times? When you face situations where the labels we place on certain people instead of the love Christ determines an outcome, how do you respond? I am not ignoring sin, nor does this story suggest that we ignore sin and its damaging effects upon people’s lives, but the Scripture does teach that using other people as a stepping stone is offensive to a holy God. The most offensive sin described in this story is not the adultery; it is the malice, arrogance, and ignorance of the Pharisees to use the sin, of another person for personal gain while ignoring the sin that resides in their own heart. The voice of the critic seeks to condemn you by exploiting and exposing all your failures. In contrast, the voice of Christ confronts our sin with love and provides a better way to live. (Rev. Steve Andrews).
19) A terrifying moment: On March 22, 1824 an incident took place in Madison County, Indiana, which came to be known as the Fall Creek Massacre. Six white men murdered nine Seneca and Miami Indians and wounded another. Among the nine dead were three women and four children. The six men were apprehended and tried and some were executed. One of the men named John Bridge Jr. was sentenced to death by hanging for his part in the massacre. He was to be executed on June 3, 1825. His father, John Bridge Sr. and another man named Andrew Sawyer, who was John Bridge Jr.’s uncle, were also to be executed that day. John Bridge, Jr., along with a large crowd, witnessed the hangings of his father and uncle as the crowd waited expectantly for a pardon from the governor. With no sign of a pardon, a sermon was preached as the crowd waited expectantly. Finally, John Bridge, Jr. was led to the gallows and the rope was lowered over his head. But as the men waited for a signal, a cheer arose from the back of the crowd. A stranger rode forward and looked the condemned man in the face. “Sir, do you know in whose presence you stand?” Bridge shook his head. “There are but two powers known to the law that can save you from hanging by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead; one is the great God of the Universe, the other is J. Brown Ray, Governor of the State of Indiana; the latter stands before you…” Handing over the written pardon, the governor announced, “you are pardoned.” In an instant, what had looked like a hopeless situation became a door of hope. John Bridge Jr. went back home, settled down, opened a dry goods store and died peacefully, fifty-one years later! I told that story to ask this question: Can you imagine the fear that must have gripped the heart of that young man as he watched his father and his uncle die, knowing that he was next. Can you imagine the terror as he was led onto the gallows and that noose was placed around his neck? It must have been a moment of terror like few have ever experienced! (The Sermon Notebook). But, I know one person who experienced that feeling. This poor sinful woman whose story is related in this text, she knew that kind of fear. As she is led trembling into the presence of Jesus, she knows in her heart that she is about to die a horrible death by stoning.
20) Story of the “Selifish Giant”: Oscar Wilde’s story “The selfish Giant” has a great message. Every afternoon, the children used to go and play in the Giant’s garden. It was a large lovely garden, with soft green grass. Here and there over the grass stood beautiful flowers like stars, and there were twelve peach-trees that in the spring-time broke out into delicate blossoms of pink and pearl, and in the autumn bore rich fruit. The birds sat on the trees and sang so sweetly that the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them. “How happy we are here!” they cried to each other. One day the Giant came back. He had been to visit his friend the Cornish ogre and had stayed with him for seven years. When he arrived, he saw the children playing in the garden. “My own garden is my own garden,” said the Giant; “and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself.” So, he built a high wall all round it, and put up a notice-board. TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED. The poor children had now nowhere to play. Then the Spring came, and all over the country there were little blossoms and little birds. Only in the garden of the Selfish Giant it was still winter. The birds did not care to sing in it as there were no children, and the trees forgot to blossom. “I cannot understand why the Spring is so late in coming,” said the Selfish Giant, as he sat at the window and looked out at his cold white garden; “I hope there will be a change in the weather.” But the Spring never came, nor the Summer. One morning, he saw a most wonderful sight. Through a little hole in the wall the children had crept in, and they were sitting in the branches of the trees. In every tree that he could see there was a little child. And the trees were so glad to have the children back again that they had covered themselves with blossoms. And the Giant’s heart melted as he looked out. “How selfish I have been!” he said. He took a great axe and knocked down the wall. Oscar Wilde’s story gives the picture of a man who has understood what he has done was wrong and corrected himself by knocking down the walls that he has built. Today’s Gospel presents before us the picture of a woman who stood at the feet of Jesus with the realization that she had done wrong and she was ready to change her ways. Jesus’ reply to her was amazing, “Go away and don’t sin anymore.” (Fr. Bobby Jose).
During this Lent.
Give up complaining…..focus on gratitude.
Give up pessimism…become an optimist.
Give up harsh judgments...think kind thoughts.
Give up worry……trust Divine Providence.
Give up discouragement…..be full of hope.
Give up bitterness……turn to forgiveness.
Give up hatred.….return good for evil.
Give up negativism.….be positive.
Give up anger……be more patient.
Give up pettiness…..become more mature.
Give up gloom…..enjoy the beauty that is all around you.
Give up jealousy.…pray for trust.
Give up gossiping…..control your tongue.
Give up sin…..turn to virtue.
Give up giving up….hang in there !!!!! (L/19)*****
From Fr. Jude Botelho:
Today’s first reading from Isaiah shows us that a right relationship with God is not only important, but possible no matter how difficult the situation. Isaiah was promising liberation and redemption to those who were in captivity, when people had almost lost hope. When everything seemed more hopeless than before, Isaiah was speaking of a new exodus from Babylon, when God would once again work wonders for his people. We might give up on God but God does not give up on us. Isaiah was reminding his people that God isn’t a God of fear and punishment, but a loving and caring God. That God can do anything, even snuff our powerful Babylon that was keeping His people in exile. We have to remind ourselves that God not only did great things in the past but is ready to do wonderful things from us right now. He is a God of newness always acting and making something new.
In the second reading Paul affirms that the most important part of faith is knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and by ‘knowing’ Paul is not talking about intellectual knowledge but a deep personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. Paul is writing this letter almost twenty years after his conversion. When he was a Pharisee the search of his whole life had been for a right relationship with God, he had striven to observe perfectly all the demands of the Law. After his conversion he realize that all his efforts, all his achievements, his trials, his being thrown in jail, everything was useless, was dung. "I consider them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ." Blamelessness comes only from a person’s willingness to accept Christ. What Paul is asking of believers is not to be burdened by the past, we don’t have to look back in guilt, nor have we to be over preoccupied by our own efforts at attaining our salvation but rather to let God work in us and through us as he wishes. We cannot merit salvation but only humbly accept it as a total gift of God. In today’s gospel John paints a picture one the one hand of Jesus the merciful Lord who does not judge us even in our sinfulness but gives us another chance, and on the other hand a portrayal of human beings out to judge, to condemn, to destroy life in the name of religion and God. Jesus goes to the temple to pray and to proclaim the goodness of God, the Pharisees come to the temple to play a game of ‘whose right and whose wrong’, using a fallen woman to bait Jesus to fall into their trap. Unmindful of the embarrassment they are causing this woman, the Pharisees set the trap for Jesus. "Teacher this woman was caught in the very act of adultery and according to the law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. Now what do you say?" If Jesus says ‘No’ then he is going against the Mosaic Law and not showing respect for their religious traditions, for which he should be condemned. If on the other hand he says ‘Go ahead’ then how can he speak of mercy and pardon and besides he would be going against the Romans, who did not allow the Jews to impose the death penalty on anyone as only the Romans had that right. With either option Jesus would stand condemned. What was he to do? Jesus was silent. He did not do what they expected him to do. He did not pass judgement one way or another. Instead he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. Human beings are quick to judge and we find ourselves judging and labeling people all the time. We judge by externals and we impute motives for what we can see without bothering to understand, without ever asking whether we are qualified to judge. "Judge not and you shall not be judged."
"First get rid of the log in your own eye before you remove the speck from your brother…"
A woman brought her daughter to Mahatma Gandhi one time asking him to place his hand on her head, to recite a prayer over her, and to free her from an addiction she had. Gandhi asked what the addiction was, and her mother said that her daughter was addicted to sweet things, like sugar, sweets, sweet cakes etc. Gandhi thought for a while and he then asked the mother to take her daughter home and return one month later. This seemed strange, but the mother did what she was asked. One month later she arrived with her daughter. Gandhi placed his hand on the young girl’s head and prayed over her, and then he told the mother to take her daughter home, because from now on, everything would be ok. The mother more puzzled than annoyed, asked Gandhi why he was able to do something this day and not on the previous occasion. Gandhi smiled, as he told the mother that, up to one month ago, he too, was very fond of sweet things! - Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel Truth’
What about Jesus’ action of writing on the ground? No one knows what he wrote. Was he doodling on the ground? Some one has suggested that perhaps he was listing the sins of the Pharisees. Well aware that they were guilty one by one they slinked away beginning with the eldest till Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. St. Augustine described it poetically, ‘two are left: misery and mercy." And the woman hears the good news from Jesus. "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and sin no more." Some people would have difficulty accepting how easily Jesus forgives. "Does God really forgive as easily as that?" Graham Greene has called it "the awful strangeness of God’s mercy." It is important to understand the heart of the message. The lesson of the story is not that sin is of no importance, or that God does not punish sin, but that God extends mercy to the repentant sinner in order that they might turn from their sins. Unlike the Pharisees who wanted to condemn, Jesus wanted to forgive. He believed in the goodness of people whereby the one who has sinned can change. Jesus was giving her another chance. Her life was not all over, she could begin again and so can we. He is making us anew!
Fr. Jude Botelho:
“Never look back”
A lesson I learnt early in life was ‘never look back!’ As a four-year old, I ran a fifty-meter race at a Christmas party for kids organized by a company. Halfway through, I was first in the pack whereupon I looked back to see where the others were. In a wink, the others overtook me and I finished last. I wept bitterly. “Son” said dad comfortingly: “Never look back.” “No need to recall the past,” says God in the first reading from Isaiah, “no need to think about what was done before.” The deeds “done before” refer to the first Exodus from Egyptian slavery to freedom. The “new deed” is the return from the Babylonian exile. In Christian imagery the “new deed” refers to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’
In today’s Gospel we have the moving account of the encounter between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. The scribes and the Pharisees brought this woman caught in adultery to Jesus not because they are concerned about morality, but because they want to trap Jesus. If he goes against the death penalty then he would seem to be condoning adultery. If he decided for the death penalty, he would lose the sympathy of the masses who knew him to be kind to sinners. What is the response of Jesus? He wants to avoid anything that would cause her further shame so Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. One of Jesus’ basic principles is that no human being is to judge another. The quality needed for definitive judgment is not knowledge, but goodness, which only God has in sufficient degrees to make judgments. So Jesus, when prodded on by the Pharisees, charges the one who is without sin to cast the first stone. How often we have a double standard for judgment. We have one set for ourselves and quite another for others. We are able to see very clearly the weaknesses and failings of others while we condone the same in ourselves. The Gospel tells us that the Pharisees got the point, and one by one they left the scene beginning with the eldest. The point of the gospel story however is not the Pharisees and their behaviour, it is not about judging others; the heart of the story is what happens between Jesus and the woman when all her accusers have vanished. Jesus is left alone with this woman. He turns to her and asks her, “Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more.” The lesson of the story is not that sin is of no importance, or that God does not punish sin, but that God extends mercy to repentant sinners in order that they might turn from their sins. With this woman as with us, Jesus is not interested in what she was but in what she could become. Unlike the Pharisees who wanted to condemn, He wanted to forgive. He wanted to challenge her to leave her sin and rebuild her life. He was giving her another chance. He is giving us, even at this eleventh hour, another chance. God is not a God of condemnation but of mercy and forgiveness.
The Scarlet Letter
In 1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne published ‘The Scarlet Letter.’ Its setting was a Puritan community in Boston in early New England. Hawthorne’s novel tells the story of Hester Prynne who was forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” for “adultery” because she had given birth to an illegitimate child. The child’s father was none other than the community’s minister, Arthur Dimmersdale. Hester had to bear public scorn and humiliation, while the minister had merely to bear the pangs of conscience. After many years the minister finally confessed his secret sin to the people and later died in peace. Hester meanwhile went on to live like a saint bringing happiness to her disturbed illegitimate daughter and helping others in their troubles. ‘The Scarlet Letter’ has some similarities with today’s Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery.
He doesn’t deserve mercy!
The story is told of a young French soldier who deserted Napoleon’s army, but who within a matter of hours was caught by his own troops. To discourage soldiers from abandoning their posts the penalty for desertion was death. The young soldier’s mother heard what had happened and went to plead with Napoleon to spare the life of her son. Napoleon heard her plea but pointed out that because of the serious nature of the crime her son had committed he clearly did not deserve mercy. “I know he doesn’t deserve mercy” the mother answered. “It wouldn’t be mercy if he deserved it.” That’s the point about mercy: nobody deserves it. It is given freely!
Fr. Titus Brandsma was a University President in Holland during World War II. He was arrested by the Nazis and taken to a concentration camp at Dachau. There he was isolated in an old dog kennel. His guards amused themselves by ordering him to bark like a dog when they passed. Eventually he died from torture. What the Nazis didn’t know was that the priest kept a diary of his ordeal, writing between the lines of print in an old prayer book. He wrote that he was able to endure his suffering because he knew Jesus has suffered before him. In a poem addressed to Jesus, he wrote: “No grief shall fall my way, but I shall see your grief-filled eyes; The lonely way that you once walked has made me sorrow-wise…“Your love has turned to brightest light this night-like way (of mine)… “Stay with me, Jesus, only stay; I shall not fear if, reaching out my hand, I feel you (are) near.”
Kilian Healy in ‘Walking with God’
Hollywood heroes often capture our imagination because they symbolize something that we admire. For example, when we watch Charles Bronson in Death Wish, Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry or Sylvester Stallone in Rambo, it is not their violent actions that attract us, but their cool courage in confronting danger. We’re inspired whenever we see these film heroes walk fearlessly into what they know are high-risk situations, because they have resolved to do what they have to do, to right some wrong. Spontaneously we almost want to stand up and cheer for them as they defy death and demonstrate daring, because we wish that we too could face our own challenges with the same kind of courage.
Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’
It is some years ago now when I actually witnessed the following scene. I saw a mother with a son about six years of age, and a daughter of about four. The young girl was crying because of her brother who was after her hitting her on the head with his school bag. The mother lifted the young lad off the ground, gave him a sharp smack across the face, with the words: “I’ll teach you not to hit anyone smaller than yourself.” –We are all familiar with the concern of parents and teachers about young people in their care taking drugs. Many of the same adults spend quite a lot of time and money buying and using alcohol, cigarettes, stimulants, and other addictive products. If they themselves fail to see the contradiction inherent in their behaviour, they should not expect the younger generation to be as blind as they are.
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth’
1. Once upon a time a high school principal discovered that someone had stolen the exam questions from her office. It had to have been the sophomores because they were the only ones whose grades shot up. She assembled all the sophomores in the gym and tore into them. I don’t know who’s more stupid she said, the one’s who stole the tests and then gave them to everyone else or the ones who use the stolen tests to improve their grades.
Either way we were bound to catch you. So you’re not only sneaky and dishonest and corrupt. You’re also dumb. We’re suspending the lot of you indefinitely until we find out who stole the tests. Tell your parents not to bother to come over here and try to change my mind. I won’t talk to them. I won’t even waste my time telling them that their children are crooked and dumb. If the people who did it confess, we might not expel them, but they don’t have much time to fess up. Then she stormed out of the gym.
The sophomores slipped out in twos and threes. I agree with what she said, they admitted, but I didn’t like the way she said it.----------------
2. An elderly woman was telling the pastor on his farewell from the parish: “I am sorry, father, you are leaving. I never really knew what sin was until you came here.”
3. Pastor and Farmer: