Perfect? You Can Throw Stones!

Perfect? You Can Throw Stones!

Benedictine Catholic Sister Catherine Cleary

By Sister Catherine Cleary, OSB

Most of us hasten to say we are not perfect ... but often find ourselves judging others. The gospel of the adulterous woman provides fertile ground for reflection on this.

The chief priests and Pharisees have sent guards to arrest Jesus, but they come back empty handed. The guards say they are impressed with Jesus’ teaching, adding “He does not need to be arrested.”  

This must have been very upsetting to the chief priests and Pharisees. They have decided something must be done to silence the man named Jesus.   

But before they can make an arrest, they decide they must gather more evidence.

This is an important point. It seems the scribes and Pharisees care more about retaining their positions as leaders than about what, exactly, Jesus is saying. To retain their positions, though, they need to silence him. 

They decide to do it by publicly posing a question intended to trap Jesus. They do it using a woman who has been caught in the act of adultery.

The story takes place in the Temple Area where Jesus has been drawing many to hear his teaching. The woman is paraded into the center of the crowd, to be leered at and reviled by all. 

(I can't imagine a more evil act of embarrassment, can you?)

The Pharisees state clearly to Jesus that according to the Law of Moses, those caught in adultery are to be stoned to death. Under the Roman occupation, however, the Jews have no such authority. The Pharisees ask, “What have you to say?”

The question is a test that will provide them with evidence they need to prove Jesus’  insurrectionist intentions. Jesus looks down and starts writing on the ground with his finger. 

The authorities persist with their questions until Jesus finally looks up. “If there is one among you without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

As he bends down to continue writing on the ground, the crowd begins to disperse. At last, Jesus looks up to find he and the woman are alone. 

“Woman where are they?,” he asks. “Has no one condemned  you?”

No one sir,” she answers.

“Neither do I condemn you,” he says. “Go away and don’t sin any more.”

Jesus has skillfully answered the question, but not by calling for execution or condoning adultery. Instead, he has shown mercy, kindness and compassion. 

There is one more small point about this gospel. It has to do with his writing. Today’s scholars say it’s not about what he wrote, but that he wrote. Doing so may have given him time to work out an answer.

Like many of us, he may have doodled while he thought!

No matter what the scholars say, though,  Jesus’ message is clear: Let go of the temptation to judge one another.

Be merciful. Be kind and gentle, no matter what the circumstances and no matter what the season.

Comments (2)

  1. Toni Petersen:
    Apr 13, 2019 at 09:40 AM

    I like that you mentioned the pause (to doodle) Jesus took. If we can remember the importance of pausing, that may be all it takes to delete the thoughts or words from happening. Thanks!

  2. Benedictine Sisters:
    Apr 15, 2019 at 10:29 AM

    Toni, You are so right! Happy Holy Week!

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