April 7, 2019: Fifth Sunday of Lent
Reading: John 8:1-11
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
The Gospel reading for this Sunday, much like the ones just before it, highlights the mercy and compassion of Jesus, his willingness to put aside law in favor of justice and love. This is not a parable, but a statement from John as he reports the encounter between Jesus, the Pharisees (religious leaders of the day) and a woman caught in adultery.
According to the law, a woman caught in adultery was to be stoned. When questioned by the crowd about the law, either a yes or no further puts Jesus in more trouble. The trap is set – the Pharisees know that either answer will be wrong according to law. Jesus spoke no words, but wrote on the ground with his finger – “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.” One by one the Pharisees and elders of the day walked away. There are no records of the words Jesus wrote – but we can all guess? However, we can give the religious leaders some credit in that moment for not claiming to be sinless and worthy of passing judgement on others – especially women!.
The officials were becoming more and more alarmed by the influence of Jesus on the crowds. He is continuing to teach in the vicinity of the Temple and the officials of both Roman and the Jewish hierarchies were already plotting his arrest and hopefully death.
While we might like to see ourselves on the good side of this story, we would do well to cast ourselves in all three roles – as the woman who likely had a very hard and abusive life, bartered by men for her services with no one to stand up for her. We might be the judgers – one of the roles we all drift into far too many times each day, if we are honest.
We might also take the role of standing up for what is right, the old and true question, “What would Jesus do?” Jesus stood up for justice, compassion and love. He said all persons have rights to be honored. He said we are all God’s children never mind the color, the heritage and culture, or the level of money or power.
He said that diversity matters and comes – literally – from the Divine. No one was to be left out. All are from the hand of Mystery, the Divine, at the very beginning of life. Scientists can now tell us what native people knew from the beginning – we are all kin. Jesus said and we sing, “All are welcome in this place.” May it be true?