The landscape of Israel is littered with stones. They stretch out across the sun-bleached land often as far as the eye can see. In such a setting it is not hard to appreciate how ‘stoning’ others became a form of defence, punishment, and assault. The means were there in almost every situation and place. In the heat of arguments people may have simply taken up stones are merely an arm’s length and thrown these at each other. But in cases of violations of the law, stoning was used to punish and at times to execute people.
In such a setting adultery was seen as a sin deserving capital punishment. Of course, the woman is being use in this story, the real intent of the scribes and Pharisees is to trap Jesus and to find some cause to further criticise or condemn him. Their intentions is far from the a desire to defend the law, and hypocritically their protestations about defending the law for the sake of tradition and out of respect for the Mosaic tradition is hollow and shallow.
How far is both the old law, and the misuse of its provisions by those with other agendas, from Jesus’ command ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Once again, we see Jesus create an answer that is unchallengeable, and which also confronts those who seek the woman’s stoning. Further, his intervention ensures the woman’s safety and freedom.
What can we learn today for our own spiritual growth? It seems that there is a strong warning about hypocrisy within this story (the false motives of the officials), there is inequality to confront (the partner of the woman is absent entirely and has gone unpunished or unexposed), and there is a misuse of office and power at work here (those with power are exercising it against one with little or no power).
The scene calls out to us to be aware and to base our behaviour on the standards that Jesus championed and not those of the crowd, the voyeur or the manipulative.
We are called to follow a compassionate leader, one who saw behaviour that needed to be challenged from time to time, but who did not condemn the person.
Let us do likewise.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.