We meet Jesus in today’s Gospel as he is challenged by a group of men who wanted him out of the way. In looking to gather evidence to have him arrested, they drag an unfortunate and humiliated woman before him who had been caught committing adultery and then question Jesus on what should be done with her.
(Notice how there is not a word about the man even though the Law was quite explicit that both should suffer the death penalty.)
If Jesus suggests that the woman should be released, he would be accused of violating the ancient Law of Moses. On the other hand, if he suggests that the Law should be upheld and the woman put to death, he’d be in trouble with the Romans who had taken away from the Jewish people the right to execute people.
As we’ve heard, Jesus avoids the trap. At first, he says nothing and just starts writing (or doodling) on the ground. After they persisted with their question of how the woman should be treated, Jesus finally spoke to say: if there is anyone here who has never sinned before, he can be the first to stone the woman. And then he resumed writing. (By the way, this is the only evidence we have of Jesus ever writing.)
We are given no details about what Jesus wrote in the dust. Some people suggest this may have been a device to give himself time to think; others that he was spelling out the sins of some of the men; and others again that he may have been laying out the names of the men’s mistresses … but who knows? Whatever he wrote, his words and action challenged the motives of the woman’s accusers. He knew that they were not really interested in defending the Law of Moses or the woman’s life but were just using her to trap him.
Then, beginning with the oldest person (perhaps the wisest among them due to his age?), the men walk away one by one and leave the woman alone with Jesus. And, as we’ve heard, Jesus does not condemn her. He gently sends her on her way, simply encouraging her to avoid future sin.
‘No need to recall the past’, says Isaiah in the First Reading; ‘I forget the past’, says St Paul in the Second Reading; Jesus does not hold her ‘past’ against the woman dragged before him; and neither does he hold our past – or worst mistake – against us.
The response of Jesus to those who accused the poor woman is a reminder to resist the temptation to pass judgement on others. Not an easy thing to do! He is quite clear about judging another when he says: ‘Judge, not and you will not be judged yourselves’. (St Matthew 7:1). The truth is we all are sinners and are not in a position, because of our own sins, to judge the sins of others, although it might make us feel better about ourselves to see their sins as greater than our own. In the Lord’s eyes, we simply are not qualified to ‘cast stones’ at another: we leave all judgement to God.
hence in this community of the Holy Name, we strive to follow Christ’s example by being open and welcoming to all. Young or old, married, single or divorced – and whatever their gender of sexuality – all we welcome.
Holy Name, Jesmond
3 April 2022