In our zeal, we drag a woman caught in adultery and show her shame for all the world to see. We are incensed by what she has done, indignant at the disgrace she has brought upon herself and us.
We ask the Lord to pronounce the sentence she deserves.
And pronounce we must our stand on sin. Infidelity deserves chastisement. Grievances deserve redress. Crimes deserve punishment. Sin deserves discipline. Offenses deserve correction. Laws expect execution. Wrongs demand to be righted.
We ask the Lord to find her guilty.
And she is guilty. She has been unfaithful and she has betrayed the love of perhaps her own family. She has broken the hearts of those who have loved her and she has broken law and order. She has failed her promise and gone off with her lust. She has violated others. She has hurt us.
We ask the Lord to sentence her to death.
And she has been dead for a long time now. She has been used by men and has sold her soul many times over. She has been living in the shadows, between numbness and fear. If there is any defiance at all in her, it only makes her look pathetic. If there is denial, it is all the more tragic. She has lost touch with life. She has lost her soul.
We ask the Lord to justify the stone in our hand.
And stones we clutch to satisfy our craving to be right. We carry these heavy loads in our lives to justify ourselves. Our hearts latch on to these hard things in the vain hope that hurts will equalize and our burdens lighten. We lug these with us the way we do remembrances and regrets. We keep looking back without realizing our hearts have turned to stone.
When the Lord sees the stones, he bends down to write on the ground. Whatever it is he is writing, he is showing us the softness of the earth on which we stand. There is no hardness there, and thus no letters or laws to carve on surfaces of stone. He is doing something farmers do, working the earth and making furrows in the soil with his hand.
Then the Lord stands up and finally pronounces sentence. He asks us to let go. The Lord asks us to see the woman, and to see ourselves in her.
We are called to mercy. Even as we are called to be faithful, we are asked to forgive.
We are called to humility. Even as we are drawn to hold our sin always before us, we are asked to let go of our righteous pride. Even as we are rewarded golden for the goodness we have accomplished, we are asked to lead a life of radical dependence on the gracious mercy of God.
We are called to compassion, to suffer with others, to suffer sinners (our very selves) with understanding and patience and love. We are asked to open our lives to contrition and repentance. And to ask for and receive the stamina we need to begin the slow journey to reconciliation.
If there is one grace that God has so clearly given us with the election of our new shepherd Pope Francis I, it is in discovering again our love for Jesus Christ and for his bride the Church.
While he was cardinal of Argentina, he spoke once about this woman, the Church, and what will make this bride sick and old. He said:
“We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a Church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a Church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out onto the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the Church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded Church that goes out onto the streets and a sick withdrawn Church, I would definitely choose the first one.”
This woman, the Church, has been wounded and dragged out into the streets, her shame for all the world to see. There she stands, not without guilt, her sin always before her.
We are called to love yet again. Even as we are broken, even as we sorrow over what we have lost, we are called to come home again.
[by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ]