Fifth Sunday of Lent | Year C
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody, they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?’ They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. As they persisted with their question, he looked up and said, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Then he bent down and wrote on the ground again. When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there. He looked up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus ‘go away, and don’t sin anymore.’
Jesus’ words to the scribes and Pharisees have similarities to the saying “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones”. The scribes and Pharisees wore the robes of their status but to Jesus they were as transparent as glass.
Jesus saw deep into their hearts and into their history, and he understood their motives. The woman was nothing to them; she was merely a tool to use in attacking Jesus.
The woman was also transparent to Jesus. He knew she had sinned, maybe repeatedly. He was surrounded by sinners – the scribes and Pharisees and the woman.
The difference lay in the power of the sinners. The scribes and Pharisees claimed power over the woman, to the extent of her life or death. These sinners condemned a sinner, and would readily have stoned her to death.
Whatever Jesus wrote in the sand on the floor of the Temple, he caused the collapse of the interior walls the scribes and Pharisees had constructed to prevent them seeing their own sinfulness. They saw themselves in whatever Jesus wrote, and it made them ashamed of the rocks in their hands.
The woman’s view of herself must have changed too by the time the encounter with Jesus was over. Her treatment by the scribes and Pharisees carried the strong message that she was despicable, worthless and a sinner. She was also a victim, with low self-esteem leaving her with little control over her life or her behaviour. By the time she and Jesus parted, she had received a different message: she was worthy of his intervention; what she had done in the past mattered less than what she would do in the future; and he believed that she could turn her life around.
When another person causes us distress or difficulty, our first thought is often that the person must be made to change. We may try hard to make the offending person change, but in fact the only person we can change is ourselves.
To free ourselves from the feelings caused by another we first have to acknowledge and examine the feelings the other person produces in us. We must become transparent to ourselves – why does this person make us feel angry, or victimized, or down-trodden or undermined or overwhelmed?
Perhaps the scribes and Pharisees were so hard on the woman because she was like a mirror reflecting their faults back to them. Perhaps the person who causes us anguish is doing something similar, alerting us to psychological vulnerabilities and perhaps even to faults or sins.
Jesus entrusts us, as he did the woman, with the responsibility for changing ourselves. The miracle is that when we do this, the people who bother us seem to change as well.