The woman in today’s Gospel was in a mess to say the least and in a very dangerous position.
The choices she had made for whatever reason had not led into life or been helpful to her.
Does this sound familiar to you? Wrong choices can certainly mess us up.
She was dragged by a group of deceitful so-called upright men calling for blood and showing little concern for her with the intent of trapping Jesus. Dark forces at play here and in the Temple, the house of God. She stood vulnerable before everybody, judged and abandoned. Have you ever felt that way? What would it be like if our vulnerability was laid bare for everyone to see and judge? Perhaps it has been. It can be very difficult to live with the shame of something we’ve done and not proud of. I remember working with youth caught up in stealing and burglaries. Their greatest shame was the pain and anguish they had caused their families.
If we are honest with ourselves, we may not like to think we are judgemental, but it is very easy to be if we have been offended against or someone has hurt us badly. Adultery, the woman’s offence and of course the man who conveniently isn’t even on the scene, is serious and has caused so much pain and destruction in families and relationships.
The Scribes and Pharisees in this account are using the woman as a pawn. It is very difficult to face self-righteousness head on and Jesus knows this. He bides his time as if praying for divine intervention (no pun intended) when he bends down to write on the ground. If people are convinced about something or someone, it is very difficult to reason with them.
As they persisted, Jesus looked up and said,
‘If there is one of you who has not sinned let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’
What a statement for us to reflect on and ponder. To see Jesus looking up at us and challenging us to investigate our own hearts when it comes to our own mistakes, sinfulness and desires and to be very wary indeed about passing judgement on someone else. To their credit the scribes and Pharisees all walked away one by one. There is nothing like self-reflection to realise we are all made of the same stuff and are capable of great good but destructive forces are at work inside us too. It makes me think of all the wonderful people who work as chaplains in our prisons. They are alongside men and women inside for all kinds of crimes, but they acknowledge their humanity and treat them with respect and give them an opportunity to listen to their stories. Others are happier to lock them up for good and throw away the key.
I am struck by the end of our story when the woman is alone with Jesus. You think she could have run off when her accusers had all gone but she stays. There is something about staying. There is always something about staying with Jesus when faced with our own mess and not running away into old patterns and behaviours. Here again, Jesus looks up and he looks up at us,
‘Where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ Often it can be the destructive voices inside our heads that condemn us, ‘How could anyone forgive me for what I have done? I deserve what’s coming to me’. The voice of Jesus is not like that. As the reading from Isaiah 43:16-21 reminds us there is, ‘no need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before’. And St Paul 3:8-14, ‘All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come……the prize to which……. we receive in Christ Jesus.’
The voice of Jesus is always tender, compassionate, forgiving. ‘Neither do I condemn you, go away and sin no more.’ That’s the gift of this Lenten Season, acceptance, conversion and transformation because we are loved no matter what.
That is why we can sing in our Psalm, ‘The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy’.
‘Loved Sinners’ - Track 9 from ‘Holy Land’ is an appropriate song to reflect on if you would like to deepen some of the thoughts from today’s sharing. I was thinking about the Gospel story for today when I composed it.