Fifth Sunday in Lent

Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

It was a strange response.  When the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus at first said nothing.  Instead, he bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger.  When they persisted with their questions he finally told them, “Let the one who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her.”  Then he again “bent down and wrote upon the ground.”

The scribes and Pharisees demanded an answer.  However, they were not interested in justice.  If they were, they would have at least brought the man as well as the woman they caught in that act of adultery. They tried to set a trap for Jesus.  If he had permitted them to stone the woman, he would have violated Roman law, which reserved capital punishment to the imperial state.  If he refused, they would accuse him of violating the law of Moses.

Jesus refused to take the bait. Instead, he turned the tables on his adversaries.  He stopped writing, straightened up and told them: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first one to throw a stone at her.”  Befuddled and shamed, they walked away.  Jesus again began to write on the ground.

What did Jesus write?  The scriptures don’t say.  Over the centuries, scholars have offered various explanations.  No one knows for sure.   Perhaps it was this verse from the Book of Proverbs: “Whoever digs a pit falls into it; and a stone comes back upon the one who rolls it “(26:27). 

We live in a world that is divided in many ways and for many reasons.  People have strong opinions and deep feelings.  Scientific research demonstrates that anger and fear are strong motivators.  Politicians regularly condemn negative attack ads but few are willing to stop using them.  Why?  Because they work.  Throwing stones of condemnation works.  Throwing stones of demonization works.  Throwing stones of disinformation works. 

We can also throw stones in our families and in our church.  I hear a lot of confessions.  Parents complain that their children are not obedient.  Children and teens complain that their parents don’t listen and don’t understand them. In the church, people on the Left throw stones at those on the Right and condemn them as rigid, nostalgic and lacking in compassion.  Those on the Right throw stones at those on the Left and accuse them of being relativistic, unfaithful and even heretical. 

The easiest way to avoid throwing stones, Jesus tells us, is not to pick them up; and the easiest way to avoid picking them up is to remember that we’re sinners.  All of us.  Like Jesus, we can still point out sin and urge each other to avoid it.  But we don’t need stones to do that.  We need wisdom, compassion and the desire for the good of others. What do you have in your hands? +