Throughout the Lenten season, we’ll be posting reflections for holy days and Sundays. These reflections are taken from this year’s Lenten reflection booklet, The Beauty We Must Hold Fast To: Reflections for Lent 2022, which includes all-new reflections written by former Pax Christi USA General Secretaries, National Coordinators and Executive Directors. Click here to see all reflections as they are posted as well as links to other Lenten resources on our Lent 2022 webpage. Today’s reflection is written by Johnny Zokovitch.
reflection for the FIFTH sunday of lent, APRIL 3, 2022
by Johnny Zokovitch
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.” (Jn 8:11)
Are we to believe that on their way to the temple area, the scribes and Pharisees just happen to come across (where, in the middle of the road?!) at that very moment a woman in the act of adultery? How convenient! More likely, this is a set-up – they’ve “entrapped” this woman for the purpose of challenging and embarrassing Jesus.
The “question” posed to Jesus by his opponents is whether he agrees with Moses that the woman should be stoned for her transgression. Interestingly enough, the law they refer to (whether in Dt 22 or Lv 20) emphasizes that both parties—man and woman—should be punished, but their only concern is with what should happen to her.
It appears that it’s a no-win situation for Jesus: either answer he gives will damn him. Agreeing to the stoning of the woman means going against Roman law forbidding Jews from carrying out the death penalty, reserved only for Roman authorities. Disagree and he’s prioritizing Roman authority over Moses’ authority. Either way, he loses. They can cast him either as a dangerous anti-Roman zealot inciting insurrection or as a political accommodater with no respect for Moses or the torah.
Jesus doesn’t immediately respond to his questioners, instead writing in the dirt. His response, of course, is that the one without sin should throw the first stone. Rev. Joe Nangle writes that with this response, Jesus invites all those gathered (as well as us today) to “view the sin of those accused through our own sinfulness,” a stunning challenge when we think about it because typically we view the sins of others through our own comparative righteousness instead! ‘Yes, we may be sinners too, but that person’s sin is so much worse than ours!’ Such thinking would have been typical of Jesus’ audience as well, including the Pharisees and scribes. But what is operating here, and what Jesus undermines with his answer, is his opponents’ belief in a hierarchy of sin, where certain sins are more horrific and therefore more deserving of punishment than others. It isn’t that the woman is a sinner—it is that these MEN find her sin to be more repugnant, more repulsive, more everything than their own. Adultery—particularly a woman’s adultery—is deemed worse than hypocrisy or pride or sloth (or even the adultery of the man caught with her!). Her adultery trumps every transgression, every sin that any of them has committed. But Jesus says NO to their—and our—desire to create a hierarchy of sin where some sins make others more guilty, more wrong (and maybe Jesus specifically says no to the hierarchy of sins created by men who obscure their own misconduct by shining a light on the misconduct of women). Jesus says sin is sin is sin—and that we are all guilty.
The passage ends, of course, with all those who were present (not just the scribes and Pharisees, but a great crowd) leaving the scene, until Jesus is alone with the woman. And here Jesus again shows the difference between himself and religious authority gone astray: Jesus speaks to the woman, the first time the woman is treated as a subject, with inherent worth and dignity—not an object, not something to be used, a tool, a means to some other end—but as a person, created in the image and likeness of God. And despite whatever sinfulness she had participated in, he withholds his condemnation, offering grace instead.
- Do you defend your own mistakes by suggesting their relative smallness compared to the mistakes of others?
- Can your own sinfulness conjure up understanding and solidarity instead with the failures of others?
>> Join us on Monday, April 4, when we will read a reflection from Ronaldo Cruz, from the fifth week of Lent. Click here for more information and to register.
ACTION: Support Pax Christi USA’s Bread Not Stones 2022 campaign, aimed at redirecting military spending to address the root causes of conflict, injustice, inequity, and environmental catastrophe. Fill out the form at the bottom of the Bread Not Stones 2022 statement page here. Consider becoming a local organizer and promoter of the campaign. Click here for more information.
Johnny Zokovitch is the current Executive Director of Pax Christi USA.