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Spirituality of the Readings
Fifth Sunday of Lent C
April 7, 2019
John Foley, SJ

It is a scene from a nightmare.

Yet it turns out well.

Pretend that you are the woman in Sunday’s Gospel. You have been “caught in adultery.” The officials shove you into a mob of people.

They see your hot shame and how it burns. They recite the ancient law of Moses: “The sacred law says you must be stoned to death for your crime.”

Stoned to death! Humiliation would be bad enough! The sin is bad enough. Stoned! No!

There is a man everyone calls the “Teacher.” He has been captivating the crowd just before you were dragged in. Now you (= the woman) have become the center of attention.

So the nightmare gets worse. By means of your humiliation the accusers want to trap the Teacher and disgrace him! They are using you for this purpose. Now you see that your devastation is only a mere tool!

Their motto is hatred not love. They want death to happen.

They question the Teacher. Doesn’t he agree that you should be stoned to death? They have him in a snare, this “teacher,” this dreamer, who always preaches about forgiveness and love. If he defends you for the sake of his so-called love, he will break the law of Moses! If he rejects his law of love, he must then follow Moses’ law, pick up a stone and throw it.

This teacher leans down, scratching absent-mindedly in the dirt. People hold their breath. The accusers fear. Why is he silent and what will he say? Now they themselves become nervous.

Let us figure out Jesus’ answer. Could it be that “the Teacher” is thinking something like the following:

   “My Abba has loved each of them through all ages, no matter whether they were sinners or not. ‘Be my people,’ Abba always begged them. ‘Love one another. I love you, and I forgive your sins.”’

But their motto is hatred not love. They want death to happen.

For “Father” Jesus uses an Arabic word that expresses both familiarity and respect, “Abba.”

They shout again. “What is your answer? Shall we follow the law and stone this sinful woman?” Remember, reader, you are that woman, and you stand in humiliation, cheeks hot and tears falling. Your heart says in terror, “the accusers are right!”

But teacher lifts his head from the scratchings. He utters a sentence that sums up the Gospel and all of Lent:

   “Let the one among you who is without sin throw the first stone.” (Gospel)

The crowd creeps away, silently, sunk in their own hidden sins. Now you stand alone before this quiet Teacher, and your terror has gone. There is something about him that supports you, brings you out to solid ground.

   “Well, where are they?” he asks. “Has no one condemned you?” You reply, “No one, sir.” Maybe he also asks, “Do you condemn yourself?”

You, the woman, spend a long time on this answer because the question is so very hard. Finally you whisper, “I do not wish to condemn myself, Teacher.”

   “Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus answers. “Go and sin no more.”

This scene could refashion the whole earth. If we could each accept our own sinfulness and the forgiveness that surrounds it. We would have peace. We would drink compassion from God, who has been there all along, tracing in the sand.

You stammer at last, “I believe, Lord.

   “Help my unbelief.”

John Foley, SJ

Father Foley can be reached at:
Fr. John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
Art by Martin (Steve) Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go