Dear Believers in the Christ,
Today, we proclaim John 8:1-11 in our Eucharist. This story is one of my favorite encounters with Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They did this to test Jesus. In the process, this young woman was publicly shamed. Her life was in the hands of Jesus because tradition said she should be stoned for her actions.
We need to center our hearts in this scene. Imagine the complexity of this situation. This nameless woman is shamed beyond measure. She does not know what Jesus will do. Will he support the tradition and have her stoned? I can’t imagine how she felt at this moment, being surrounded by male authority. She is condemned in so many ways. Imagine the backstory. Where was the man in this adulterous experience? Why isn’t he in the circle? Was he part of the circle of condemnation in some way? The circumstances of shame seem endless. So, the circle now has been tightened to this moment of encounter with Jesus. This man could possibly become another man who shames her or a person who will lead her to freedom.
Jesus turns this circle of shame inside out. My heart focuses on the stones as well in this scene. The stones are rather large for condemnation. The words of the scribes and Pharisees seem of equal size. Their words that shatter a reputation are also large and heavy. Words condemn. Words hurt. Words cause damage to the soul that is lasting. Words carry with them meaning that will be passed down for generations. We also use words to condemn in our society. We condemn race, sexuality, gender, social status and put others to shame who are different from ourselves. Words carry meaning for years to come.
Just when the circle of condemnation is ready to cast stones at this woman, Jesus steps in with other kinds of words. He says to the men, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” With these words of Jesus, the men reconsider. They drop the stone of condemnation and their violence. This is sheer grace. Imagine the authority Jesus exuded in this moment. His words surpassed the authority of these leaders. I can hardly take that into my heart. This is the moment of unbelievable power, grace, and authority. The leaders believed Jesus. This is more than a test for Jesus, this is a miracle that is beyond measure.
Jesus responds with silence after he asks the men about their own sins. He crouches down to the ground and writes in the sand. His silence is overwhelming. The only words that are used, perhaps, might be those in the sand. No one will ever know what he was doodling in the sand. Was it words? Was it just scribble? The counter to the actions and condemnations was silence and waiting. I love this. Jesus does not get angry with the scribes. He waits for them to come to a new conclusion about their actions. This is unbelievable grace and witness in the Holy Spirit that was certainly present in that horrific circle.
We live in our day in many circles of condemnation. We experience condemnation. We are also the accusers. Jesus desires for us to break open all the circles of hatred we find in our lives. From this text, we learn to examine our own sins, our own need for the healing touch of Jesus. From this beautiful encounter of salvation in a small circle of hatred, we find freedom, forgiveness, and life in the circles that bind us.
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.”
God give you peace,
Fr. Ron Raab, CSC, Pastor