The Gospel Reading for this 5th Sunday of Lent is the one that tells of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.
It asks us to question our own self righteousness when we are quick to condemn others, rather than bear the more complex and nuanced burden of justice with mercy.
Jesus confronts the pharisees with their own pompous sense of being in the right and their seeming blood lust and petty narrow closed- minded fundamentalist interpretation of the Law. They wanted to carry out the death penalty by stoning the woman, which they technically had a right to do in Moses Law.
Some people use the parable to justify that there should not be a death penalty at all in Christian society.
“In the Gospel Jesus says let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Some people say that then to make sure they got the point Jesus wrote their sins on the ground. The stones fell from their hands and they fled. Jesus said: “neither do I condemn you, but He added, “Go and sin no more.”
We don't know what he wrote in the sand. if He could have simply been playing for time or perhaps the writing in sand was a challenge to their harsh interpretation of the old laws as if to say they were built on the sand of vengeance but his New Law was one based on compassion.
I have often longed to know what Jesus wrote but maybe my longing for written certainty and the lack of being provided with it is the whole point.
For written laws are useless if they are not interpreted without mercy and compassion and these are things that can only come from being Christ-like, from the heart of the Holy Spirit and not from tablets of written law in hardened stone only.
We all know that the letter of the law is nothing without being interpreted in the right spirit. Today we often use the phrase" Let he that is without sin be the first to cast a stone" in all the wrong ways just to justify really bad behaviour on our part and to try and let ourselves off the hook by bouncing this phrase back at the accusing person.
Using this phrase as reverse psychology to get back at someone who challenges us when we are in the wrong is a perverse distortion of the truth of what Christ was saying.
It does not excuse a wrongdoing. In fact Jesus does tell the adulterous woman to "sin no more".
Here is an interesting take on the story from a Blog called The Rubicon.The last part of it is incomprehensible to me here in the UK as it refers to a whack of American TV presenters that I have never heard of but the early parts are well written.
Also here a link to The Wild Reed Blog with an excerpt from Fr. Rolheiser’s essay, “A Heart with One Room.”