Jesus and the Adulterous Woman
Last week, Fr Felix blessed us with a powerful homily about the prodigal son and the unconditional love and infinite mercy that God the Father has for all of us. My take away from his homily was that God’s love is not something we can possess. It’s a love we have to give away. And the more we try to give away God’s love, the more of this life-giving, life-sustaining Love we receive. A beautiful paradox.
But there is another part of the story that serves as an important and powerful reminder for those who have convinced themselves that they are morally superior to everyone else, for those who think they are holier-than-thou. And for those of us who are quick to judge and condemn others.
So, before we move to today’s Gospel, it’s worth returning to the story of the prodigal son to observe the reaction of the older brother, whose attitude matches the attitude of the Scribes and Pharisees who sought to condemn the adulteress woman.
The prodigal son’s older brother is the “good boy” in the family and he stands in stark contrast to his younger brother, who is obviously the “black sheep” of the family. The older brother was always dutiful and obedient to his father. But when the father celebrates the return of his lost son, the older brother’s reaction to the return of his wayward brother belies the darkness of his soul. The depth of his anger and resentment is laid bare when he cries to his father, “Why are you throwing a big party for your “bad son”, when you have never given me - your “good son” - even a goat to eat with my friends. The “good son” came to believe that he was morally superior to his “bad” brother and probably to everybody else. The righteous son became self-righteous. Just like the Scribes and Pharisees, whom Jesus criticized for their pride and hypocrisy.
In denouncing the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus said “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones. On the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy.”
We see this hypocrisy in full display in today’s Gospel parable. The Gospel draws a contrast between the proper purpose of the law and its corruption when the Scribes and Pharisees catch a woman in the act of adultery. I wonder how exactly she was caught? What were these people doing that they were in a position to catch her in the act? Talk about creepers! These Peeping Toms grabbed the woman and made her stand in the middle of the crowd. They judged her guilty and brought her to Jesus to test his fidelity to Mosaic law. Was this an act of tough love? Were these religious leaders helping the woman grow in holiness? No, the leaders of the temple did this to trap Jesus into speaking against the law of Moses.
The Gospel does not allow us to lose sight of their cruelty and hypocrisy. The Pharisees are the teachers of the law. But they used their knowledge of the law to humiliate and condemn this woman they used as a pawn. They were perfectly willing to destroy her because they had their sights set on the destruction of a much bigger prize. How ironic. The religious leaders who professed to love God the most, are the ones who ultimately killed God when He showed up.
Now, under the Mosaic law, the punishment for adultery called for both the man and they woman to be stoned to death. Notice, they only went after the woman. Apparently, they gave the adulterous man a pass.
Thinking they had set up the perfect trap, the Scribes and Pharisees bring Jesus the woman and say, Moses commanded that we stone her. What do you say?
Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. And, one by one, her accusers walked away, until they were all alone.
Notice that the elders walked away first, because they knew they were the most sinful. The Scribes and Pharisees knowledge of the law was used for a corrupt purpose: to persecute the woman and to trap Jesus. But God’s laws and church rituals should never be used for persecution. Rather, the reason for the law and the rituals is to bring us closer to God, to unite humanity with the divine.
The purpose of God’s law is to make us humble. The self-righteous, the religious zealots, the holier-than-thou’s - they don’t use God’s law and church rituals to humble themselves; instead, they weaponize the law to intimidate and manipulate others. They feel better about themselves when they are putting others down. The only way they stand tall is when they are stepping on everyone else. But, this temple is meant to be a place of mercy, a place where sins are forgiven, where our friendship with God and each other is restored.
Too often, we too use knowledge of God’s law to hurt others ...when we gossip, we scapegoat, we judge, we blame. We get on social media and post all kinds of judgmental comments and memes. We convince ourselves that we are following God’s law and we are just pointing out to others their transgressions. In reality, we are using the law in the same corrupt way that it was used by the Pharisees.
We are all guilty of making unfair judgments. We label everyone and judge them accordingly. If you hate Democrats and liberals, you think every Democrat is a radical hippie, an open border socialist, and a baby killing atheist. If you don’t hate Republicans and conservatives, you think every Republican is a xenophobic racist, a homophobic zealot, and a Neo-nazi. Just look at our social media. Look at the posts and some of the comments. And we call ourselves Christians?
One of Ghandi’s most famous quotes is: I like your Christ. But, i don’t like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
The hard truth is, we are constantly judging and condemning others for their political views, their sexual habits and life-style choices. We are constantly throwing stones when we, ourselves live in glass houses, often with very thin glass. In other words, we are the Scribes and the Pharisees of this era.
The philosopher Pascal said: Man is neither angel nor beast, but he who wants to makes himself an angel makes himself the beast. Nothing darkens the image of God and opens the door to disbelief than Christians who speak about God, and then live against Him. Those who do are neither angels nor saints, they are beasts. They do not help build the Kingdom of God, they help destroy it.
In this last week of Lent, as we prepare to share in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, maybe we can make a conscious decision to dial down the rhetoric...As for me and my house, I’m going to try to be a little more humble and a little less self-righteous, hypocritical and judgmental.
The presence of judgment almost always guarantees an absence of love. Instead of judging others, I will spend this next week examining the depth of my own sinfulness. I invite you to do the same. And in the process, we will encounter a loving God who forgives rather than condemns. And having been loved by Him, we can then learn to love all others.