This week’s Gospel opens with Jesus teaching people in the temple area. In come the Pharisees, a religious group at the time of Jesus who had a reputation among the people for being strict and faithful upholders of the religious laws of Judaism (no small task given that there are over six hundred commandments in the Jewish Torah!). With them they have a woman who was caught in adultery (having sexual relations with a married person who is not one’s spouse), whom they make stand in front of everyone. We are not told why they make her stand there in front of everyone, but we could guess that they mean to shame her, to have her feel the painful consciousness of her transgression, to be humiliated. They may also be driven by a desire to feel better about themselves by placing themselves in comparison to her sin. You can imagine them nudging each other, smirking, and basking in their high opinion of themselves.
- Have you ever felt shame, that is, felt the pain of knowing that you had done something wrong? What did you do in order to move beyond this shame?
- Has anyone ever shamed you, that is, used you as an example of wrong doing? How did that feel? Why might this person have acted this way toward you?
- Have you ever been involved in shaming someone, that is, making public something they did wrong for the sake of ridiculing them? How did participating in this make you feel? Why dp you think you took part in this?
Trying to trap Jesus, the Pharisees tell Jesus that this woman has been caught in adultery and remind him that the penalty for this sin is stoning. We may be so familiar with this gospel story (or so used to the sexual double standard that celebrates behavior in men that is condemned in women) that we may forget to wonder, “Where is the man with whom this woman had sexual intercourse? Why is he not also brought for the same punishment for the same crime?”
- What words have you heard used for boys or men who are sexually active? What words have you heard used for girls or women who are sexually active?
- Do you think there is still a sexual double standard in our society?
The Pharisees ask Jesus what he has to say about this case. Instead of answering them right away, Jesus bends down and starts writing on the ground with his finger. What do you think that Jesus wrote on the ground? Why do you think he did not answer the Pharisees right away? Of course, we can never know for sure, but I like to think of Jesus doodling on the ground, letting the Pharisees get more and more uncomfortable as he remains silent.
- How do you feel about silence? Is it appealing or scary to you or a little bit of both?
- How can silence be used constructively in a time of conflict or argument?
When the Pharisees cannot let things go, Jesus finally responds with this famous line: “Let the sinless one among you cast the first stone.” And then he goes back to writing on the ground again, as the Pharisees drift away, one by one. Instead of engaging the Pharisees in a battle over a particular law and how it should be applied in this case with this particular woman, Jesus shifts the conversation to a more general law that applies to everyone–the law of living out love of God and love of neighbor in our life. In making this shift, Jesus suggests that sexual sins are no worse than other sins that break our relationship of love to God and other human beings. He is also making an important point about where we should be putting our efforts and attentions. We are called to pay attention to our own shortcomings and to put our efforts in fixing our own broken relationships (with God, self, other, the world), rather than serving as the judge for others.
- When you read Jesus’ response “Let the sinless one among you cast the first stone,” what do you think? How easy is it to include yourself among the sinners?
- When have you been in a position where you were more focused on judging others than on working on your own faults?
- In the communities of which you are a part (school, family, church, etc.), are there certain sins or mistakes that are viewed as worse than others?
At the end of this gospel, it is just Jesus and the woman. And he does not condemn her, but rather tells her that she should go and sin no more. How do you think that the woman felt hearing this? I like to think that she left and went on to live an amazing life, empowered by the grace and new chance at life that Jesus offers her.
- Think about the worst thing you have ever done or the thing of which you are most ashamed. How does it make you feel to think that God does not condemn you for this?
- With God’s grace, what great things may you go on to do in your life?