TEXT: “…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.” (John 8:1-11)
In order to understand the criticality of the event in the Gospel today, we need to put ourselves in its cultural, social and religious context. We all know that during the time of Jesus existed laws that allowed people to execute someone who committed adultery. Stoning someone to death due to this guilt was a common practice in the society. People accepted it and considered it a necessary thing to keep the society in order.
It is in this context that the Pharisees and the scribes brought the adulteress to Jesus to challenge his teaching of love and forgiveness.
He did not give his opinions on this law. Jesus did not say it was wrong or not. He just simply pointed out the reality of their hearts: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) Boom! Simple but radical!
They want him to be like them, but he wants them to be like God. They want him to judge others like them, but he wants them to judge themselves before judging others. They want him to give a death sentence to her, but he gives them a little retreat. They want him to pick up the stone and throw it at the sinner, but his words are just like a stone thrown at their conscience. They want him to kill her, but he wants to save her and all of them. They want him to just use their lenses, but he challenges them to have the eyes of the loving God. They want him to support their society by eliminating the “dirty ones” out there, but he wants them to build their society by purifying the dirts in their own hearts.
There is one observation as follows: When one is in sin or guilt, it is easier to have a tendency of judging others negatively; and it is more difficult to see goodness in others. Why? Perhaps one of the simplest words frequenly used by psychology today to explain this tendency is “projection”. One almost always projects onto others what is going on inside oneself. But why does one do this? Because, unconsciously or subconsciously, one seeks self-protection. How to protect oneself? By attacking others. And, one often justifies this action in the name of a “good intention”. Sad but true! For example, when one has fear inside of being seen and judged by others, one often has a tendency to imagine something negative about others in one’s head, then expresses it out in negative words or actions. Very subtle but very harmful.
Do you think the accusers of the poor woman in today’s Gospel have this problem? Very possible! They want to kill her, and they perhaps want to trap and kill Jesus, in the name of the well-being of their society. We know the rest of the story! And more importantly, we know this story is written for us to reflect upon our life today. Let us pray for ourselves that we be very careful in judging others, that we know how to purify our hearts and that we become like Jesus: full of love, understanding, gentleness, forgiveness and mercy.
Joseph Viet, O.Carm.