he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
– John 8: 7-11
I don’t really care about the crowd of accusers.
No doubt, I have something to learn from them in this Sunday’s readings, or at least from Jesus’ criticism of them. But they aren’t the ones who capture my imagination in the familiar Gospel. The woman and Jesus hold much more fascination for me.
What would prompt me to intervene in such a heated situation? Love, I would hope, though I’m woefully deficient compared to Jesus.
And what must this woman have thought? Past condemnation, brought low, perhaps believing she was near death. Did she believe she deserved it? Was she ashamed – of the adultery, or of something else?
Jesus treasures memory – he sanctifies it at the Last Supper – but here he essentially tells the nameless woman “Forget about it.”
This is what we need to do with shame: forget about it. I have my handful of memories that shame me, though I’m not a “good” enough blogger to splash them all over the internet for the sake of “bleeding on the page” or whatever the phrase is. But those are in the past, and I have matured into a different person since the days of my silly secrets.
God says “go, and from now on do not sin any more” and I respond “but I did something really stupid.” God says “go” and I remain stuck beating up a past self who doesn’t exist anymore.
To refuse the gift of mercy is an act of unfaithfulness. God is desperate to forgive and we resist, convinced if God knew the truth the offer would be rescinded.
The reading from Hebrew Scripture exults and then exhorts: “remember not the events of the past…see, I am doing something new!” What are the things you’re holding on to, that you can’t shed? Don’t wait until you’re perfect, just join Paul – and me – in saying “I continue my pursuit” of new life in Christ.
There is no glamour, no valor in hanging on to the things we’ve already repented of, though I know that letting them go is not as easy as a simple act of will. As we stumble closer to Holy Week, I’ll be trying more and more to let go of my past so that I can allow the power of Christ’s sacrifice to drive out shame and replace it with love.
Diane Rivers says
Beautifully said. So many lessons for me here. Wow.
Sam Sawyer, SJ says
Beautiful. About “beating up a past self that doesn’t exist anymore” — exactly. The real barb in that temptation, its true subtlety, is that is takes the energy “Go and sin no more”, the resolve for fidelity now and in the future, and directs it backwards. The sense of disgust and rejection directed at sin is a good thing, but God wants it directed forward and toward freedom.
Thanks. I agree. Sometimes what we claim is “shame” is just a cop-out cloaked in humility.