The former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, is facing trial in the court of law for various violations of his legal responsibilities while governor. Nonetheless, he is vigorously seeking out and receiving invitations to appear on talk-shows. These are a source of income for him, to compensate for having been stripped of his status as a duly licensed attorney. The downside of this creative approach is concern that he is tainting, by such public exposure, the potential jury pool that he will shortly be facing.
Is he violating the law, even flaunting it? Is he thereby gaining an advantage for himself, in the meanwhile giving bad example to the public at large, that one can do these things with impunity?
When the scribes and Pharisees bring before Jesus a woman just caught in adultery (one wonders whether she was the victim of a set-up, just as Jesus was about to be in the plan underway), the law is very much in evidence: "Now, in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" To disregard the law would be bad example on Jesus’ part, to say the least. But one wonders whether His stooping to the ground and writing in the dirt didn’t expose a bit of bad example clinging to the lives of her accusers. Jesus may not have been beyond a touch of coyness on His own part.
The woman was obviously being used as a pawn in a chess game underway here where the major players were the law and faith in Christ. Isaiah, in today’s first reading, lays down the ground-rules for the outcome of this contest: "Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new." The law was part of the old regime; Christ is something new on the scene. The rules of the game are changing. As Paul clearly spells it out: "…not having any righteousness of my own based on the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God…"
When Jesus dismissed the woman with His "Go, and from now on do not sin anymore", was she just happy to get off scot-free, or was it dawning on her that something new and momentuous was underfoot now, and she was an important player in bringing it about? Perhaps she already anticipated Paul’s advice: "…forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal…"
This scenario confronts sin in a new way, elevating it from the level of a legal issue to that of a personal one, where the person is Christ. The woman experienced this very thing in her encounter with Him. It is not likely that she took the whole event lightly (she could have been stoned to death). Being at the confluence of an Isaiah, Paul and Jesus, she really didn’t escape anything. Rather, she fell into a whole new sense of what it means to sin. In the process, she managed to avoid a judgment on herself by a probably tainted jury pool, whose members edged out of sight, slowly, beginning with the oldest. Wouldn’t Lent be a triumph for us if we could absorb her experience into our lives?
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.