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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Adulterous Woman

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Tomorrow I am the "prayer leader" for RCIA and thus it is my job to discuss next Sunday's scriptures. I've posted a few of my reflections in the past, but usually after the talk. I'm posting this one a little early, and I am covering only the Gospel. The readings for this Sunday are Cycle C and can be found at the USCCB website. (linked)

We really haven’t done a lot to address moral theology, the foundation of which is human dignity, and I think this Gospel does a lot to help us break into that a little bit. We can easily place ourselves in this woman’s position and through that, come to see who Jesus is and what he does for each and every one of us, and that is not just to give us life, but to restore our dignity which is compromised by our fallen nature.

Human dignity is a very misunderstood term; there’s a great number of wishy-washy terms out there that I certainly would not want applied to me. If you read some of them you’d agree. (The Wickipedia definition is especially bad).

All of us have inherent dignity by virtue of the fact that we are created in God’s image and likeness, and we are the only creatures He created entirely for Himself. We are adopted sons and daughters of God, created especially for eternal union with Him. God also gave us free will which is the foundation of dignity, and he will not contradict our dignity by interfering with our free will, but rather, speaks to us through our conscience so that we can turn from our sin and willingly return to His grace. Conscience must therefore be formed, and this takes a lifetime, but it also is an integral part of both our freedom and dignity; we are the only creation of God that has the ability to consciously and willfully overcome our compulsions and propensities in order to choose the good (God), over evil.

When we sin, we reject God's love. Sin can be defined as both a rejection of God's love and an abuse of freedom. God wants to restore us to our original dignity that we had prior to the fall from grace, but he cannot contradict himself or compromise our free will by forcing us to do anything. He will not take control of us; he will only invite and allow us to accept or decline his invitation.

We have to understand that God is love, and the union He desires to have with us involves a true definition of love, which is self-effacing, completely giving, holding nothing back. When we sin, we are rejecting God’s love and we are abusing our free will. God gave us the ability to overcome our willful rejection and cooperate in the restoration of our unity with him. This is true dignity.

In this Gospel, the Pharisees are dragging the adulterous woman to Jesus, claiming they caught her in the act of adultery and by law she must be stoned to death. But we see by their actions that she is just a pawn and her life means nothing to them; they are using her as an object in order to try to trap Jesus. Note the fact that the other party in her sin is not there; the Pharisees are citing the Law of Moses in their little game, but the Law of Moses called for both parties in adultery to be stoned.

Jesus bends down and writes on the ground. This is the only time in the Bible where Jesus wrote anything and it doesn’t say what he wrote. I learned from Father the other day that some traditions have indicated that Jesus was writing down the sins of those who were standing there, but there’s something more to the act for those with the eyes to see - if any of them did. The very finger Jesus was using to write in the dirt was the very same finger that wrote the Commandments - the Law of Moses -on the stone tablets!

Each one of the accusers leaves, so the woman is left alone with Jesus, and he does not condemn her.

Pay attention to this because it’s very revealing; what did Jesus do? What was he doing throughout this story?

He stood between the woman and death.

He defended her from what had been termed “just judgment” under the Law of Moses. He offered her MERCY.

This woman, in her commission of adultery, was rejecting God’s love and was doing what so many people do today; they seek false love from pleasures of this world which only lead to death. The woman is dragged, without her co-sinner, to be used only as a pawn. By the time she gets to Jesus, she is already aware she is condemned; she knows the Law. She has no dignity left and no one even recognizes the value of her life.

Jesus intervenes, and through him, she is saved, her dignity restored; in part. But Jesus shows us something more; she has a part to play, too. She has to cooperate by accepting God’s love and returning it; and she can do this through the simple admonition given to her: Go and do not sin anymore.

In other words, if she is going to accept God’s love, she has to recognize her sin for what it is and instead of embracing what only leads to death, she must recognize her inherent dignity, overcome what pulls her down, and accept the hand of Jesus which will lead her only to life.

We are all in that place; we all have to recognize the dignity that God gave us, recognize ourselves in the adulterous woman, and recognize who stands between us and death. Jesus is calling all of us to come to him, to overcome our abuses and misunderstanding of freedom, and to accept his love by returning it fully. We can only do that if we are willing to reject those things that pull us away from God. He will help us overcome everything if we will only allow him to do so and take his words to heart;

Go, and do not sin anymore.


Anonymous said...

Powerful. Some astoundingly good points, here! Oh, to think He was writing with the finger of God... I'd never thought of that aspect, nor heard it, about the Commandments. Awesome. :-)

As I understand it, in those times, women who were not successfully married off before being orphaned, if not taken in by some family, had few options for surviving. They were not recognized as people with rights; there were no jobs for them, no way to support themselves..but one. The sinful woman, representing all of sinful humanity, is very likely the penitent woman who laved His feet with her tears when in the house of Simon the Pharisee who snubbed Jesus in his own quiet way. And Jesus made mention of this woman for all time.

I think really there's always an unspoken "Because..": "Go and sin no more... because you were made to be with Me for all My life."

Anonymous said...

I have a quote from St. Augustine that ties in with your topic but I will preface it with a little instruction from Fr. Cantalamessa (BTW, this is from the Mar. 11 meditation in Word Among Us magazine)

"Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, who is the preacher to the papal household, explains this mystery through the concept of a bound sacrament: A sacrament is called bound if the fruit that should accompany it remains tied up because of certain blocks that prevent its effectiveness. An extreme example of this is the Sacrament of Matrimony or Holy Orders received in the state of mortal sin. In such circumstances, these sacraments cannot grant any grace until the obstacle of sin is removed through penance. Once this happens, the sacrament is said to live again thanks to the indelible character and irrevocability of the gift of God.

The sacraments are not magical rituals that act mechanically, without the persons knowledge or disregarding any response on his part. Their effectiveness is the fruit of cooperation between divine omnipotence and human freedom, because as St. Augustine said, ‘The one who created you without your cooperation will not save without your cooperation.

Jay said...

This phrase:

"The very finger Jesus was using to write in the dirt was the very same finger that wrote the Commandments - the Law of Moses -on the stone tablets!"

I've never considered that before. That is one I am going to commit to memory.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Very insightful post! It's unfortunate that so few "get" that yes, Jesus, bonded with the unloved and the rejected but he also did not just pat them on their head and say: "keep it up". Mercy yes, justice, yes, but there was firmness as well.

Adoro said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments!

The talk went well tonight...and it was my last of the year. The next time I speak to the group it'll be at our retreat and that's more along the lines of reading, I think, than anything else, and then after the Vigil it'll be group presentations working more on engaging the new Catholics.


Fr. Ben Hawley, SJ said...

let's see: a spiritual gift for teaching and preaching; a spiritual gift for interpreting scripture; a spiritual gift of discernment of spirits...

it's I Corinthians 12 and 14, unified and undergirded by I Corinthians 13, made flesh in our day.

very impressive, but of course humbling too, because they're His gifts given to us.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I wish I had you as a speaker when I was going through RCIA.

God is love--when we sin we are rejecting God's love and abusing our free will.

The adulterous woman was treated like an object by her acusers--they did not care what happened to her--no love. I wonder if the woman herself believed that she had no value, no dignity, and not deserving of love. In forming her conscience she must have believed she was scum--and that she deserved the abusive behavior of the men.

In her poorly formed conscience she refused her God given dignity--how hard it must have been for her to willfully overcome her compulsion to continue to sin and choose God--she would have to first believe she was worthy of His love.

Father Stephanos has a good saying on his blog today:
If I have been the victim of evil,
then my true and full healing
is when I become the opposite.
The opposite of a victim of evil
is a perpetrator of good.

God is love, to accept His love we have to quit abusing ourselves with sin--no longer claim the victimhood of evil--accept our dignity and choose His love.

Adoro said...

Thank you, Fr. Ben.

I did use a Bible Commenatary on the Gospel of John - that's where I got the tidbit of information on the "same finger that wrote the Law wrote in the dirt". That was fascinating!

But I'll admit I did come to understand the rest in Adoration- and the stuff on human dignity I learned in class and tried to summarize it. Somehow it just fit perfectly with this scripture! Whenever I have to give a talk on the scriptures, I go to my Adoration hour, pray, and ask God what he wants me to say. I think he answers so clearly because I am not asking for myself but for the benefit of others. Not that he doesn't reveal himself to me through scripture, also, but the focus is different when I have to actively do something with it, and the answers seem to come more easily. It's hard to explain.

Tara ~ those are awesome insights, and thanks for the info from Fr. Stephanos. Wow.