In a Jesuit’s formation there is a time when a man is sent to a place he’s never been – to do something he’s never done. So our friend went from Boston to San Diego, sat on a park bench and put out his little cardboard sign that said “Spiritual Direction – 25 cents.” He sat there – available to anyone and everyone. It seems that all manner of people sat down next to him and told him all manner of things. He listened, then asked them insightful questions that led them to find their own answers within themselves. He thought it was the most meaningful thing he’d ever done – and in time he became a deeply loved spiritual director.
Jesus seems to be doing the same thing, sitting there in the Temple area, just making himself available to listen to anyone who wishes to speak with him. That’s his style. Spiritual direction – 25 cents.
But this time is different. By night, he is a homeless person sleeping on the ground in the olive groves; by daybreak he is eager to be back again in the Temple grounds to converse with people. Hi is aware that this will probably be his last visit to Jerusalem, his last chance to get his message across – that God loves us! – and his teaching probably has an intensity about it, an urgency.
As Jesus sat, some Scribes and Pharisees (come) up with a plan to trap Jesus in a dilemma, hoping his answer can be used against him. They present a clear case of a woman whom they charge with adultery. We are inclined to wonder what keeps Jesus from asking “So where’s the OTHER half of this duo?!?” We must understand that laws concerning adultery were completely different from ours, and also different for men and women. But Jesus doesn’t discuss the law or her guilt. Instead, he remains silent. His silence seems to point out his weariness with this judgmental attitude based on being right according to the law. He’s heard it so often.
Law or no law, these people feel justified in accusing the woman. They are of the mindset that women are the major source of sexual sin in their society. That attitude developed when the Jews were captives in Babylon, for it is there that they picked up the myth of Adam and Eve as an explanation of why there was evil in the world in the first place. As for adultery being a criminal activity, they refer to the ten commandments given to Moses by God. Everybody knows “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
But let’s look at these so-called “commandments.” Commandments have to do with law, and usually have severe consequences if they are not carried out. But God’s words to Moses weren’t followed by the terrible things God would do if people “disobeyed.” No! It was people’s preconceived notions of a harsh God that caused them to interpret God’s words to Moses as commandments. In fact they wereteachings from a wise God – to the people God loved – about how to be in relationship with God, and how to live a life that God knew what would make us truly happy – and our happiness would make God happy!
God could have said in a more wordy way – “Don’t commit adultery, because if you do, your spouse will be deeply hurt, you will lose the trust you have in one another, and your children will feel insecure. And-let’s not forget the other person’s family. They will suffer the same consequences. Furthermore, adultery can undermine the fabric of an entire society. So it’s better to not go in that direction in the first place. Don’t commit adultery.” That thought survived as “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
Jesus hears the judgmental attitude of the indignant men standing in front of him – certain they are in the right because adultery is against the Law, after all. Silent Jesus … You wonder if he isn’t thinking, “Where does this distorted notion of God come from ?!? How did God become reduced to a list of laws? And look at how miserable people are because of it. What can I ever do to change it?!?”
Like a good spiritual director, Jesus asks an insightful question of the men. They look into their hearts and know the answer. As for the woman, he gives no importance whatsoever to her breaking the law, and he seems not to see her as a bad person. In fact, he makes a point of saying he does not condemn her. What he sees is a person whose actions now bring her unhappiness. Like the God of Moses, he says “If you want to live a happy life, go on, now, but don’t do this anymore.”
For Jesus, it’s not complicated.
You have to love a man like that
What law binds us today? We are not under Jewish Law, and most of us have moved out of the range of Canon Law, following instead our informed consciences – a basic Catholic teaching, by the way. Nevertheless, we find ourselves bound by laws, sometimes unwritten and unspoken. What our families expect and demand of us – What our local community says is the way things must be done – Even laws we impose on ourselves. What law still binds us, making us unfree, not at peace, and not fully experiencing God’s love?