April 3, 2022
Is 43:16-21; Ps 126:1-6; Phil 3:8-14; Jn 8:1-11
In John’s gospel today Jesus is presenting another extraordinarily counter cultural teaching to the first century Jews. The local Romans and Greeks would have likely been equally edified. A woman caught ‘in the very act’ of adultery was about to be stoned to death because it was the demands of Jewish law. (Interestingly, no mention was made of her accomplice in crime, presumably a man in this traditional culture). Jesus turns the tables and directs the attention back toward the accusers when he says that ‘the one with no sin should throw the first stone’. The writing in the sand is presumed to be the sins of the accusers and implicitly the sins of the larger community. In most sins there is probably an accomplice or two involved whether they participated in the sin or they just kept quiet giving their implicit approval. A person’s sins unchecked would inevitably become part of the community’s sins. With the writing in the sand it seems no one felt sufficiently righteous to cast the first stone. In fact they wandered off rather quickly.
Then to complete the episode Jesus admonishes the woman (the behavior is not OK) but He does not judge her. He thereby replaces the judgmental expulsion from the community with forgiveness. Interestingly, Jesus Himself will likely be forever associated with this woman in this new orientation to justice. What was previously a terminal exclusion from the Jewish community became the ultimate INclusion with the Messiah Himself in a new world order that was now upon them. The Kingdom of God was at hand.
Judging and NOT judging is a very delicate and often complex matter within a community. Given the human proclivity to sin of all types it seems that it’s only a matter of time before someone (probably everyone) is going to need a corrective. Corrective action is indeed a grave responsibility of a healthy community. We can’t just ignore or blow off destructive behavior; but at the same time must always avoid making moral judgements. Then what? What do we do?
Holy Mother Church to the rescue!! Some antidotes to our morally judgmental inclinations might be the Spiritual Works of Mercy (see insert), especially teaching the ignorant, counseling the doubtful and admonishing the sinner. All of these require an extraordinary level of maturity by individuals and the community at large. This has to be an ongoing community effort among people in a covenant relationship. People will have to really care about other people… which is implied by a covenant relationship.
There is an insert in today’s bulletin which includes an examination of conscience using the Spiritual Works of Mercy. Let’s look at the three Works previously mentioned:
Teaching the ignorant. Ignorant does not mean ‘dumb’. It means someone just doesn’t know about certain things. You might have a brilliant third grader in the family who has been identified as gifted, a real prodigy. If she can’t yet understand Advance Algebra, it doesn’t mean she’s dumb. She just needs to go through a process. You could be a master carpenter or plumber and struggle mightily with an EXcell worksheet or a Power Point presentations. Ignorant perhaps, not dumb. The same is true in moral issues or emotional issues. People need to be taught and led by example for years before they could be expected to have some level of proficiency in issues of morality or in knowing their own emotional state. People are complex. It takes a whole community which is committed to its members to really form emotionally stable and morally righteous offspring. This is ultimately the prescription for world peace that is so much in our awareness these. Another 5 hour discussion…..
Counseling the Doubtful – This Work follows closely with the Teaching. It implies a process which is ongoing. Ultimately, people who act out ‘romantically’ are confused about all the attraction energy we have inside of us. Tempering our passions and understanding the true nature of love is essential to being a healthy and holy person. This is a lifelong task and in our culture, since at least the 1960’s ‘romantic’ or sexual behavior has ceased to be a moral issue. To say that people are ‘doubtful’ about the Catholic understanding of sexual morality would be a massive understatement. These teachings are adamantly rejected in fact by most people, even Catholics. As a result ‘counseling’ of a more professional type is often needed as people realize how deeply they can be wounded by the variety of their relational experiences. Again this is ongoing and will only be effective if the counseling is done in the context of a supportive and mature community. Teaching and counseling need to happen before a crisis or catastrophe occurs. Contrast that with the (voyeuristic?) behavior of the scribes and Pharisees in the Gospel. Rather than prevent what will be a real crisis for a lot of people, it seems that they were plotting all along to merely catch the woman ‘in the very act of adultery’. Then they could stone her and trap Jesus in a teaching error.
Admonishing the Sinner – Sin is always destructive and needs to be properly repented, reconciled and healed. Sometimes severe punishments are warranted and must be meted out by a just community. Jesus demonstrates perfectly the art of admonishment. He makes the point. No one else judges you. Neither do I. But now go and quit the behavior. This whole episode will require some real sensitive care for the woman and even many of the onlookers as they try to wrestle with this radical change in their understanding of justice. It will be a long, ongoing process to actually live out this type of justice. Again it will require a community in a committed covenant relationships. That’s what it takes to do anything that is morally challenging.
Please take some time to review the examination insert in today’s bulletin. May even consider go to confession. (St. George Parish at 7:00 PM this Tuesday) If we didn’t even realize that there were 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy, let alone be able to identify them, we might consider that our whole community wherever we are from needs to wrestle a little with the sin of Sloth. Of course, who am I to judge? BUT….
Let us now continue with this Sacred Mystery and once again reconfirm our covenant commitment with God and each other….