Monday, March 30, 2009

Let whoever of you is sinless cast the first stone.

John 8:1-11 This short story was not originally part of any gospel. Without getting into to much detail, is written in narrative style, but the language is not typical as that of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Because it was recognized as inspired, it was included in the canon of Scripture, first tacked on to Luke and eventually, to John.

It could easily be done as a scènette, as the French would say, a brief one-act play: two principal characters, Jesus and the woman, and a small number of minor characters, only one of them with a speaking part.

A group of men, some young, some middle-aged, some elderly, all dressed in robes that identify them as Pharisees and Scribes, bring a woman before Jesus.

Spokesman: Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. The Law of Moses commands us to stone such women. What do you say?

Jesus looks at the spokesman, and the rest of the crowd, and at the woman. He kneels, and begins to trace words on the ground with his finger.

The crowd of Pharisees comes closer to watch what Jesus is doing. Jesus looks up:

Jesus: Let whoever of you is sinless cast the first stone.

Jesus begins writing again.

Then, one by one, they walk away, starting with the oldest of them. No one is left on the scene except Jesus and the woman.

Jesus stands and addresses the woman: Woman, where have they gone? Has anyone condemned you?

Woman: No one, sir.

Jesus: Neither do I. Go one your way. But, from now on, do not sin again.

Comment: Saint Augustine, commenting on this passage of Scripture, writes, “At the end, we are left only with misera et misericordia. “the pitiful woman, and mercy”. The Latin word misericordia derives from two other Latin words, a verb, misereor, to take pity, and cor, the heart. Misericordia, in Latin, misĂ©ricorde, in French means “heartfelt pity”. The accusers were relying on their heads, on logic. Jesus, on the other hand, was moved to pity by his loving heart.

Logic was on their side, or so they thought. Jesus was placed in an impossible situation: if he opted for mercy, he was contradicting the Law of Moses, which established death by stoning as the penalty for adultery (Cf. Deuteronomy 22). That would make him liable to the religious authorities. But if he said that the woman should be stoned, he would be subject to Roman law, which prohibited incitement to murder. Unable to speak without breaking either God’s law, or the statutes of the occupying forces, Jesus chooses to say nothing aloud, but instead, writes on the ground.

You ask what Jesus wrote. Answering that question poses another dilemma. If Jesus writes down the sins of the Pharisees and scribes, he would be breaking the eighth commandment, which prohibits not only lying, but calumny and slander, deliberately causing someone’s sins to be revealed. It is a popular response that question, but it is not something Jesus would do. The Father did not send him into the world to punish the world for sin, but to redeem us from it.

Whatever he wrote – I opt for the Ten Commandments of the Law of Moses – they started walking away, starting with the eldest. None of them was left to accuse the woman. Neither did Jesus. “God so loved the world that He sent his only-begotten Son … that through him the world might be saved.”

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