Will we throw stones or choose another way?

Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB

Fifth Sunday of Lent/March 13

Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126:1-2,2-3,4-5,6; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

“If I really had my preference, I would take you to Rwanda to see for yourselves. I was able to stay for four days in a rural village named Gikonko. It is nowhere in a country that is nowhere, and that makes it the perfect place to be. It is like this. The scoutmaster who taught me about geology taught us to look on the other side of rocks. There, you can find things that can otherwise be overlooked.” These words from a visitor to Rwanda give some hint of Jesus’ actions in today Gospel reading.

The story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery has a variety of players. Chief among them is a group of scribes and Pharisees. Always interested in catching Jesus, they pose the question: “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. In the law, Moses ordered such women to be stoned. What do you have to say about the case?” They had already made their judgment. They were just waiting to have Jesus falter in his judgment.

The centerpiece of the story, however, is the beautiful dialogue between Jesus and the woman. Words are scarce, but powerful. The actions of Jesus really do the speaking. When asked to make a judgment about the woman, Jesus simply distracts from the argument. He writes on the ground.

“Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her,” Jesus then says. Slowly the scribes and Pharisees leave the stone where it is. They walk away in their hardness of heart, without turning the stone to see what could be on the other side. They cling to the way of judging that they are comfortable with.

Jesus knows that if the stone was seen from another side, they would not have made the judgment toward the woman. But they did not understand another way of looking, a new perspective. They simply walked away in their sin of righteousness.

Jesus, on the other hand, turned the stone. He offered new life to the woman. “Go and do not do this anymore.” The woman was freed. Jesus had looked at the stones on the ground in another way; he saw new life. He gave life. He offered mercy.

PASSING JUDGMENT — OR NOT

Judgment is so much at the heart of our daily life. How easy is it to be the scribes and Pharisees. We judge and pass our judgment onto others for their judgment. We look for affirmation from others so that our righteousness is validated.

The option to “write on the ground” or turn the stone to see the situation another way — a way without judgment — is ours as well. But that demands respect for the other as well as generosity and humility from ourselves. We often choose rather to throw stones, or, to put it another way, character bash in oh so many ways.

Recently I read a quote which speaks to the issue: “A lot of problems in the world would disappear if we talked to each other instead of talk about each other.”

How do we want to live with ourselves and others — with respect and generosity or with meanness and cowardice? What will we do with the stones we have in our hands — turn them over to see God’s gifts of love and charity or throw them, unexamined, toward others?

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Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB, is a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. She serves as pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.

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