The Stones We Hold
What a scene we have depicted in today’s Gospel! It amazes me how the Gospel writers, John particularly, but all the writers, are able to paint a complete scene in just a few words. Sometimes we just refer to today’s Gospel as the Woman Caught in Adultery. We could also call it the Forgiving, Compassionate Lord. Or we could call it the story of People Who Hold Stones.
We really don’t know who this woman was. Tradition holds that it was Mary Magdalene, who goes on to become one of Jesus’ closest followers. Mary Magdalene is often united with Martha’s sister, Mary of Bethany. All four Gospel present Mary Magdalene at the crucifixion and as the first one who experienced the Resurrection. Of course it is possible that the woman of today’s Gospel was someone else. I guess the only thing that matters is that the woman who stood before Jesus was a sinner. She was also terrified and humiliated. She was terrified because the Scribes and the Pharisees wanted to kill her. She was humiliated because her private sin or sins had now become public knowledge. They made her stand right there in the middle of the crowd. Embarrassed and disgraced, maybe she thought that she would be better off dead.
That is what sin does to people who still have a conscience. That is what sin does to me, and to you. When I do something wrong, I wish I were dead. Perhaps, something within you feels the same way. Many people just give up. They say, "I’ve destroyed myself, why bother with changing? I’m going to hell, anyway." People who have destroyed their marriages with affairs, their lives with substance abuse, or their world’s with anger, will hear the voice saying that there is no use trying to change. That is the voice of despair. That is the voice that led Judas to hang himself. That is the voice that rejects the presence of the Compassionate Lord as healer and forgiver. It takes humility to recognize our human frailty and seek forgiveness and strength from God. Judas did not have this humility and gave in to the forces of evil. Peter was humble enough to seek forgiveness. How about the woman who stood before the Lord? Well, the Gospel says that she remained with Him after the others left. She had the humility to seek forgiveness. And she received forgiveness. It is sad, but the atheistic existential philosophers of the last century like Sartre saw suicide as the only reasonable response to life. They were overwhelmed by sin. They let sin beat them. But the Christian existentialists like Gabriel Marcel recognized that Christ gives meaning to life and embraced him as the solution to their problems, the cure of their sickness.
The scene could also be called the Forgiving Compassionate Lord. When she was dragged before Jesus, the woman may have thought that she was alone in a world that was humiliating her and that wanted her dead. But she had an experience of God’s love and compassion. She realized that she was not alone. The One who would be forsaken by all except that very small group who stood at the foot of the Cross, would not abandon this woman. That is why she could not abandon him. She was transformed, transformed from a sinner into a virtuous woman, a follower of the Lord. Of all the people the Lord had contact with, thousands and thousands, he picked a repentant criminal dying on the cross next to him, Dismis, to be the first to join him in Heaven, and he picked this woman, Mary Magdalene, to be the first to experience his resurrection. He chose her not because she had been a sinner, but because she had become a good person.
Jesus will not abandon us. He loves us too much to leave us to our own devices. He continually prods us within our consciences and with the grace of our Church, the encouragement and needs of our families and the moral demands of our society. The Compassionate, Loving Lord is more concerned with each of us as individuals than with the results of our sins. We just have to recognize our sins and do our best to fight off sin in the future. That’s all he wants for us to be cleansed, to be absolved.
The story of today’s Gospel could also be called the Story of the People holding Stones. They had righteous anger in full huff. They had the Law of Moses on their side. They had stones they were ready to throw at the woman. They had everything and everyone on their side justifying their actions. They had everything except love. They had everyone except the Lord. Like the Elder Brother of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, their anger resulted in their excluding themselves from the Banquet of the Father, or, in this case, the Presence of the Lord. They walked away rather than drop their stones and remain before Love Incarnate.
Like them, we have often let our anger remove us from the presence of the Lord. We have reason to be upset, we claim. We can justify our anger. We have been hurt. This can all be true. But unless we let go of those stones that we are holding, that anger, that hatred, we cannot and will not stand before our Loving, Compassionate Lord. We have to let go and let God take control. The scribes and the Pharisees refused to do this and walked away. How about us? Is our anger more important than our remaining in the presence of the Divine Lover? God help us and give us the courage to conquer this anger.
There are tremendous reflections on everyday life contained in today’s simple Gospel. Jesus is the solution to the problem of life. He is the one who will never abandon us. And His presence in our lives is infinitely more important than the stones we hold, stones of anger and hatred, stone that actually hold us, hold us back from the Lord of Life.
We pray today for the humility to accept the forgiveness of the Lord and the courage to drop the stones we hold and enjoy the presence of the Compassionate Savior.