Under the general Lenten theme of judgment and reconciliation, John has created for us in this brief Gospel a complex one–act drama in which the Scribes and Pharisees seek to destroy Jesus by “using” another human person. The characters are few; the dialogue is limited; the setting is the public temple area which ironically offers little respect for Jesus or for the adulterous woman. While there is little spoken dialogue, many messages are communicated by the placement, postures and actions of the principals.
The drama opens as after a night of prayer on the Mount of Olives, Jesus comes to the temple area and “all the people started coming to him and he sat down and taught them”. The pharisees and scribes seeing a chance to trap Jesus force the woman caught in adultery to “stand in the middle” alone and without defense. They demand that Jesus comment on the Mosaic Law’s dictate that an adulterous woman be stoned. Jesus ignores their verbal challenge, their plot collapses and Jesus merely “bends down” and writes in the dust. Failing to move his opponents, Jesus then straightens up and reminds all that the criterion for judging others is to be “without sin,” an impossible state in the human condition. “Again he bent down and wrote on the ground”. As they went away, “the elders first”, Jesus again “straightened up” and approached the woman with respect. Jesus is now alone standing eye to eye with her, the true posture of reconciliation which literally means to be again situated eye to eye with another). “Go and from now on do not sin anymore.” The curtain falls leaving us to consider:
1. Which of my sins or dispositions would Jesus have urged me to leave behind in the sand so I might go forward in freedom and love?
2. John has Jesus assume different physical positions. How do those positions reflect humility which calls us to stay close to the common soil of solidarity and to simplicity which urges us to speak the truth, and to act honestly with no artifice or treachery.
Prayer: After each prayer line repeat slowly the refrain “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Help me to recognize my weakneses and sins so that I “may go and sin no more.”
Strengthen me so that I do not “use” others to advance my own agenda.
Deepen my respect for all persons and deepen my gratitude for your unbounded mercy.
This reflection was prepared for LCUSA by Sr. Margaret John Kelly, DC
St. John’s University Ladies of Charity