Well, I have been right out straight–Lent has flown by, though I have observed it closely, at depth, and with interest.
Mostly, I’ve been working on a St. T of Lisieux study guide which has necessitated many many days of hard-core, without-much-of-a-break work. Thus I have not been able to devote as much time as I might otherwise to my labor-of-love blog posts.
Nonetheless, today’s Gospel is the parable of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) and as I was reading it this morning, I had a new (for me) insight.
As you probably know at one point Jesus kneels and starts writing in the sand with his finger. Nobody has ever quite agreed on or figured out what he was writing. He then straightens, tells the crowd, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” and then “Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.” Everyone falls silent and leaves. So it’s just him and the adulterous woman. She’s standing up and he’s kneeling. THEN he straightens up, looks her in the eye (we can presume with total love) and says, “Has no-one condemned you?” “No-one, Sir.” “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
So what struck me was that for a moment at least Jesus put himself in a position of humility before her.
Maybe to put her at ease because how horrifying would it be to think you were about to have a bunch of puffed-up self-righteous men heave stones at you till you were reduced to a bloody pulp and died? What kind of hideous anxiety could the woman have been in ever since she got caught?
Or maybe he stayed bending down to underscore that, unlike the crowd, he was not using her as a scapegoat. He wasn’t letting her off the hook, either. He wasn’t pretending she hadn’t sinned. But he knew damn well that everyone else in that crowd had also sinned, one way or another. And he was not going to use her as the scapegoat.
Note that they’re on the Mount of Olives, in which is located the Garden of Gethsemane where Christ will be arrested the night before he dies.
So I thought of the next or other time we see him in such a bodily posture: on Holy Thursday, after the Last Supper, when he puts a towel around his waist and insists upon washing the feet of his disciples. So it’s almost as if the woman caught in adultery is a kind of mirror image, except female, for the washing of the feet. He’s recognizing that, especially back then, and especially in matters of sex and love, women bear the brunt, take the blame, get left holding the bag–whether that happens to be a child, or a broken heart, or both–while the guy so often gets off scot-free.
All the same–go and sin no more. Jesus totally gets the ache of womankind for love, but he also knows the kind of shortcuts we’ll sometimes take. And he kneels before the whole complicated mess, saves the woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death, and gives her the blueprint for new life.
And tells the guys in so many words, Nice try, but how about taking the plank out of your own eye before you go around trying to take the splinter out of your neighbor’s? And by the way, your effort to silence her is hideously evil, weak, and cowardly–the opposite of the character of a real man and a real human being.
I’m sure many others have made the same observation and articulated it a lot more clearly, but part of the glory of the Gospels is that we get to make our own discoveries.
In other news, Allegiant Air has now cancelled two RT flights in a row, nefariously keeping the $150 voucher I was issued for the first one (to Santa Maria, CA), and that I used for the second one (to Traverse City, Michigan, which I will probably now never see)! I have protested of course but as you can imagine, their customer service lines are a tad busy. Not fair!
Tomorrow I am going to submit my weekly column, then take off for Tumacácori National Historical Park, an hour or so from here, and take a nice long walk along the Anza Trail.
Cause I REALLY need to get away from my laptop for a day.
Meanwhile, don’t get caught in adultery (or engage even if you don’t get caught)!
6 Replies to “THE FIFTH WEEK OF LENT”
Happy Trails on the Anza you may encounter Him in a special way
Let me know how He revealed Himself. Be alert!
I love the lesson of the plank….how I need to remember who I am before I attempt to point out an other’s fault..
Could you just clear something up for me Heather, I mean this most sincerely, am not disputing – it is to do with the location of this incident, which I believe is significant. You gave said it was in the Mount of Olives and our priest yesterday concurred that it was ‘outdoors’, which, he pointed out, had legal implications as no-one could be accused outside of the synagogue. In other words, our priest said, the scribes were trying to trick him in a ‘no-win’ situation because if he forgave the woman he was breaking the law of Moses and if he condemned the woman he was also breaking the law (apart from which only the Romans rulers were permitted to condemn anyone to death).
So anyway … it troubles me that when I read this passage, I see that it says ‘They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple …’ and goes on to say that scribes brought the woman to him. So I get the message he was in the temple, not outdoors.
It does bother me when details like this are somehow glossed over …. when what seems like plain factual aspects of a scripture are interpreted so differently. I just don’t understand it.
By the way, since reading you, over the last few years, i have converted to Catholicism. Am not yet baptised as I am still a Catechumenate, at the age of 60. Your writing has been a part of this journey, along with others and the Holy Spirit, of course. From 35 years in the Baptist Church, where I was often felt a bit of square peg in a round hole.
You’re right, he went to the Mt of Olives in the morning and then went into the temple area. Which explains why, after he told the woman to sin no more, the next verse is “Jesus spoke to them (the Pharisees) again”…i.e. they’d left Jesus and the woman alone–for a few minutes–but they were apparently hanging out nearby.
I’d read a Lectio Divina in Magnificat on the passage yesterday morning and it started by talking quite a bit about the garden, so somehow that stuck in my mind and I was picturing the whole thing taking place there rather than in the temple area. Anyway, definitely my mistake. I try to be as careful as I can but I’ve never claimed to be a Biblical scholar or a theologian–this is a very informal, freewill offering so please don’t be scandalized by my humanity.
And I didn’t misinterpret the text, I simply got the place–a fact–wrong. Of course every fact has huge significance–but for the purposes of my reflection he’d at least been in the Garden of Olives earlier–“Consider first that the text begins with our Lord going ot the Mount of Olives, the very place where the Garden of Gethsemane is located, and where Jesus will spend the night of Holy Thursday and enter into his agony…The Mount of Olives, therefore, is where he will express his resolute will to suffer for our salvation…Next, the time of day–early in the morning–also speaks of the Passion for on Good Friday Jesus is brought before Pilate early in the morning”…etc (quoting from the Lectio Divina in Magnificat). So that’s what I was thinking of and what gave rise to the whole reflection, which was grounded in the orientation of Christ’s heart and his coming Passion rather than where exactly the incident took place.
Thanks for the correction–and welcome to the fold!
Hello! This is my first post on your wonderful blog which I just discovered thanks to a glowing recommendation within a Tom Neal article over on WoF. So I hope you’ll forgive me jumping into the fray but just wanted to add a couple of thoughts to this interesting discussion on the location of what is surely one of the most dramatic gospel stories as we approach the ultimate dénouement of humanity’s story on Calvary.
And even with the clarification, I think the resonances of any mentions of the Mount of Olives remain powerful in whatever context. Especially when we recall that when the Prophet Ezekiel saw the Glory of God leave the Temple, it departed East towards the Mount of Olives. From where again the prophesies told that it would one day return. So what we have in these accounts is one of those “ding!” moments otherwise filed under the ever present title of “in accordance with the scriptures”.
Something else that I only just found out recently was from a commentary I read by John Bergsma who described the set up of the Temple and how high above the events below, would have been the garrison of Roman soldiers. A brooding presence looming over the scene below. Constantly watching for problems and any hint of trouble, their antenna would have been twitching immediately at the sight of the mob gathering around the notorious Galilean preacher.
For me, it makes the scene even more powerfully dramatic when you imagine the hairs bristling on the neck of Christ as He senses the Roman overlords – over the Lord?! – monitoring and waiting to pounce. Malevolent intent and violence on every side and at the very centre of that whirling maelstrom of wickedness and sin, is Our Lord crouching small and meek but at the same time – in that great divine contradiction – exuding the cosmic power that can only come from the I AM. And all the time defusing, obstructing and confounding the channels of evil from their usual time worn courses.
A scene that is yet again a precursor to the ultimate moment when at the very centre of the raging storm and engulfing darkness is a crucified and seemingly utterly broken victim who – contradiction of contradictions! – is actually the King of Kings…
Anyway! Apologies for that stream of consciousness which rather went on a little longer than I had planned! Such is the way eh, when we dive into the ever deep waters of gospel riches?!
That notwithstanding, thank you again for a wonderful blog which I know I shall be returning to from now on! And best wishes to you too “Anon” both for the journey until now and the beautiful horizons yet to be explored. I too am a convert – 18 years ago this Easter – so I am just about getting over my teenage years (and a few years of rebellion!) while belatedly realising that contrary to what I thought that Easter Vigil all those years ago, there is still so much yet to learn and discover in this never ending “you ain’t seen nothing yet” journey of faith.
All the more reason then why I never stop giving thanks for whatever companions I may find on that journey whether in person or via this sometimes frustrating but also oft blessed medium of the internet.
And so via that, I send you all the best from London, England!
Charlie, fantastic! Thank you so much–what a powerful image, to imagine the Pharisees spying, brooding, scanning from their perch above…the drama! I heartily echo your welcome to Anon—and this is a perfect example of the Mystical Body at work…the Church, mysteriously and in many cases through us laypeople, supplies what is missing…so when I make a mistake, someone else swoops in not only to fill the breach but to amplify it, bring it to fullness…All the very best to you in London, England, as we move toward Palm Sunday. And that Tom Neal, whose blog Neal Obstat I highly recommend and have recommended here before, is the best!