|Todays Gospel||John 8:1-11|
|‘Let the one among you who has not sinned be the first to throw a stone’|
“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. John 8:7-9
This passage comes from the story of the woman caught in adultery when she is dragged before Jesus to see if He would support her stoning. His response is perfect and, in the end, she is left alone to encounter the tender mercy of Jesus.
But there is a line in this passage that is easily overlooked. It is the line that states, “…beginning with the elders.” This reveals an interesting dynamic within human communities. Generally speaking, those who are younger tend to lack the wisdom and experience that comes with age. Though the young may find it hard to admit, those who have lived a long life have a unique and broad picture of life. This enables them to be far more prudent in their decisions and judgments, especially when it comes to the more intense situations in life.
In this story, the woman is brought before Jesus with a harsh judgment. Emotions are high and these emotions clearly cloud the rational thinking of those who are ready to stone her. Jesus cuts through this irrationality by a profound statement. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Perhaps, at first, those who were younger or more emotional did not allow the words of Jesus to sink in. They probably stood there with stones in hand waiting to start throwing. But then the elders began to walk away. This is age and wisdom at work. They were less controlled by the emotion of the situation and were immediately aware of the wisdom of the words spoken by our Lord. As a result, the others followed.
Reflect, today, upon the wisdom that comes with age. If you are older, reflect upon your responsibility to help guide the younger generation with clarity, firmness and love. If you are younger, do not neglect to rely upon the wisdom of the older generation. Though age is not a perfect guarantee of wisdom, it may be a far more significant factor than you realize. Be open to your elders, show them respect, and learn from the experiences they have had in life.
Prayer for the young: Lord, give me a true respect for my elders. I thank you for their wisdom stemming from the many experiences they have had in life. May I be open to their counsel and be guided by their gentle hand. Jesus, I trust in You.
Prayer for the elder: Lord, I thank You for my life and for the many experiences I have had. I thank You for teaching me through my hardships and struggles, and I thank You for the joys and loves that I have encountered in life. Continue to pour forth Your wisdom upon me so that I may help guide Your children. May I always seek to set a good example and lead them according to Your Heart. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Gospel for the fifth Sunday of Lent continues to offer lessons about God’s mercy and forgiveness. Last Sunday we heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of Luke. Today we hear not a parable, but the report from John’s Gospel of an encounter among Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees, and a woman caught in adultery.
In John’s Gospel, the conflict between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees occurs much earlier than in the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem is reported at the beginning of John’s Gospel. Even after this event, Jesus continues to teach in the Temple. After returning to Galilee for a time, Jesus again enters Jerusalem and cures a man on the Sabbath. From this point forward in John’s Gospel, the Pharisees are described as making plans for Jesus’ arrest and seeking his death.
In the chapter preceding today’s Gospel, Jesus was teaching in the Temple area. Feeling threatened by his teaching and his actions, the chief priests and the Pharisees are already sending guards to arrest Jesus. The guards return, however, without arresting Jesus because they have been impressed by his words. Even more than this, some among the crowds are considering the possibility that Jesus is the Messiah. The chief priests and the Pharisees change their plan. Before making an arrest, they seek to gather more evidence against Jesus by posing a question intended to trap Jesus.
Today’s Gospel begins by reporting that Jesus is again teaching the crowds in the vicinity of the Temple. The scribes and the Pharisees approach Jesus, bringing a woman who has been caught in the act of adultery. They put to Jesus the question of what ought to be done in this case.
The Pharisees state clearly that according to the Law of Moses, those caught in the act of adultery were to be stoned to death. Under Roman occupation, however, the Jewish people did not have the authority to execute people; this is cited in John’s passion narrative. To answer the Pharisees’ question, Jesus must propose an action that will be either contrary to the Law of Moses or contrary to Roman law. The purpose of the question appears to be similar to the question about paying taxes found in Mark 12:13-17. Either answer, yes or no, will support the Pharisees’ case against Jesus.
Jesus avoids the trap, however, by offering an answer that was not anticipated by those who posed the question. Jesus, after writing on the ground with his finger, addresses those who stand before him and suggests that the one without sin cast the first stone. Jesus then returns to his writing. This Scripture reading, by the way, is the only evidence we have of Jesus writing. Yet there are no specific details about what he wrote.
We can easily imagine the scene as the Pharisees and the elders disperse, one by one. Jesus has eluded the trap they had prepared. We might also give credit to the elders and the Pharisees who do not, in the end, claim to be sinless and worthy of passing judgment. These Pharisees are not as self-righteous as the portrait found in the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector (See Luke 18:9-14).
Left alone with the woman, Jesus asks where the accusers have gone. With no one remaining to condemn the woman, Jesus (the one who truly is without sin) sends the woman on her way, refusing to pass judgment on her and exhorting her to avoid future sin.
Jesus’ response to those who accuse the woman is more than a caution to us about making judgment of others. It is a profound lesson in divine mercy and forgiveness. As sinners, we are all unworthy to judge the sins of others and we would stand convicted by God for our transgressions. Yet Jesus, the one without sin and thus our judge, offers us who are sinners his mercy and forgiveness. Redeemed by Jesus’ compassion, we are sent to sin no more and to live in God’s love and peace.