March 31, 2022
Written by Rita Bailey - Apostle of the Resurrection
This Sunday’s gospel is one of the most vivid and powerful stories of the New Testament. Rich in detail, it forces us to confront questions about our use of power, legalistic interpretations of justice, and forgiveness. It is also an example of how Jesus stands up to a corrupt system and shows us how to use words to speak truth to power.
The opening antiphon prefaces what is to come: “Give me justice, O God, and plead my case against a nation that is faithless. From the deceitful and the cunning rescue me…” And in the first reading the Lord tells Isaiah, “I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth…”
The Gospel scene opens with Jesus teaching in the temple. The scribes and the Pharisees bring him a woman caught in the act of adultery. Do they really care about the laws of Moses, or are they using this woman to trap Jesus?
Under Jewish law, adultery was a crime punishable by death, and stoning was the Jewish method of capital punishment. But this required a trial and at least two witnesses. Those witnesses would also throw the first stones. By having the whole community join in, the community nature of the offense was highlighted. There was not one “executioner.”
There’s a catch, though. Under Roman law, Jews were not allowed to administer the death penalty. It had to be done by Roman courts. By asking Jesus to respond, they were hoping to hear him speak either against Jewish or Roman law.
Jesus does something unexpected. He bends down and writes on the ground. What did he write? Perhaps he wrote the name of the man who was partner to this adultery but is conspicuously absent. Perhaps he listed the sins of the accusers, sins that might also be punishable by death under the law of Moses. When the pestering continues, He says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” The accusers leave. Clearly, they are all guilty.
Speaking to the woman, Jesus is kind and gentle. “Neither do I condemn you.” Words that we all have longed to hear at some time. Words that we need to remember when we are pointing the finger at the failings of others.
Jesus reminds us to be aware of our privilege and power, not just as individuals but as a community. When we evict homeless people from parks because of drug use, noise and littering, do we consider the causes of homelessness and addiction? In our mutual funds and investments, are drug and alcohol companies included? Do we advocate for more supportive housing?
Systemic injustice means that Black, Indigenous and people of colour inhabit our jails in high numbers, have lower levels of educational achievement, and their children are more likely to be in social service care. Do we have one law for the powerful and another for those with no voice? Are we different from the scribes and the Pharisees?
This Lent let us consider both our personal and our community sins. Let us do a new thing and break down the barriers to real justice.