Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Fifth Sunday of Lent: On the Throwing of Stones
$ A woman caught in adultery,
$ the law of Moses saying that she should be stoned,
$ the leaders of the Jewish people using her as an opportunity to attack Jesus,
$ those who judge others,
$ and Jesus, the Fountain of Divine Mercy,
all of these are elements in the succinct yet profound scene presented in today’s Gospel.
It is true that the woman was a pawn in the battle between the forces of evil and the Force of Good. But she still was a sinner. The passage never hints that she was innocent. Jesus himself tells her to avoid this sin. We don’t know if she was caught in a onetime situation, a long term affair, or if she was practicing the oldest profession. But we do know that there was no doubt that she had sinned. Her action or actions could not be justified whether she sinned once or many times. We often fall into the trap of only recognizing our own sinfulness if there is a large number of sin. No, sin is sin, and whether we sin once or many times, we are still sinners.
She must have been terrified, dragged by these men to be stoned. She had no defense. She had no one to stand up for her. No one, except Jesus. She had all she needed. Jesus did not see a sinner. He never does. He saw a person who needed mercy. When we approach the Lord to receive the sacrament of forgiveness, He doesn’t see sinners; he sees people who need Divine Mercy. We all might feel ashamed to face up to our sin. That’s normal. We should feel terrified to have the forces of evil deal with our sins rather than humble ourselves and seek the Divine Mercy of the Lord.
The Law of Moses said that she should be stoned. This was a gruesome way to die. The community participated in the execution. Perhaps the ancient Law wanted to demonstrate the weight of the sin by having the people do the killing. Having done that, there would be less chance that they would commit that sin.
There was more to the stoning than that, though. The men doing the stoning would release their venom on the accused. The woman would feel hatred with every rock, finally begging to be released from a world that had no place for her. These men thought that they were fulfilling the law by hating. This was the law that Jesus came to change. How could this be the way of the Lord? Jesus came to bring love and mercy to the world. There were many things about the old way that would have no place in the New Kingdom. Hatred, vengeance, an eye for an eye, all these needed to be removed from the Christian’s way of life.
Sadly, we have yet to learn that hatred can have no place in our lives. Demagogues of the last century, and now of the present century, appeal to base hatred in order to be elected to office. Hitler was not the only German who hated the Jews. He used the hatred that many of his countrymen had for Jews to get himself elected chancellor. It is terrifying to think that this same tactic has a role in our present political process, only instead of Jews, hatred is being focused on Hispanics and Moslems.
The leaders of the Jewish people saw in the woman an opportunity to attack Jesus. They didn’t care whether the woman lived or died; she was just a pawn in their battle against the New Kingdom of God that Jesus was proclaiming. Their actions were despicable. Some say it is the way of the world to use others to forward one’s own agenda, career, position in society, etc. If that is the case, then the way of the world is despicable. Our way needs to be the Way of the Lord. And yes, the Way of the Lord often leads to the Way of the Cross. But the Cross gives us eternal life.
Those about to throw the stones are those who have no problem judging other people. All of us have to fight the inclination to be judgmental. Someone may be a sinner, but it is up to God, the Just Judge, to make that determination, not up to us. So often, we attempt to hide our own sins behind the sins of others. We transfer our hatred for ourselves into hatred for others. Instead of throwing the first stone, we need to remove sin from our own lives.
The central figure in today’s Gospel is not the woman, or the leaders of the Jews, or those about to throw stones, but is Jesus. He sees the person who is being condemned, not just her sin or sins. He is not concerned about the ancient law he came to transform. He is not concerned about the venom of the leaders of the Jews. Nor is he afraid of the angry crowd with stones in hand. All he is concerned about is this woman who needs mercy.
The Lord is not concerned about what sins we have committed. He is not concerned with which commandments we have broken. He is only concerned about what these sins are doing to us. He sees us as he saw that woman, cowering before him, expecting his judgment, needing his mercy.
His mercy is there for us. The only thing he asks us to do is to extend this mercy to others. We need to stop judging others, stop pre-judging whole groups of people, stop using others for our own gain. We need to start defending the poor and stranger among us. We need to pick up those who others have knocked down. We need to work hard for the establishment of the Kingdom of God. We need to be fountains of mercy. We will only fulfill the purpose for our existence if others are able to say, “In you I experience Jesus Christ.”
The Christian does not throw stones. The Christian bathes people with mercy.