April 1, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

Follow Jesus’ example of mercy and justice

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

Many of us were taught as children that “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” That is, essentially, what Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees in Sunday’s Gospel reading: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8:7).

We have all heard this story many times, so the situation is familiar to us. A woman has been caught in an adulterous relationship, and the religious leaders of Jesus’ time want to punish her strictly. In an effort to trap Jesus into betraying the mosaic law, they challenge him saying, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (Jn 8:4-5) What Jesus says in response is also familiar to us, namely that we who are sinners cannot afford to judge others lest that same retributive justice be applied to us.

The first reading for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Is 43:16-21) recalls the mighty deeds that God has done throughout the Old Testament, but it also challenges us to disregard the past and focus on the future. As the prophet says, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” (Is 43:18-19).

What is new, of course, is Jesus. Through the mystery of the Incarnation, all God’s creation has been reborn, and all that the law and the prophets foretold has been fulfilled and “made new.” As one powerful example of this complete transformation, justice is now informed by mercy. We no longer punish by taking “an eye for an eye” or by stoning people. In fact, Jesus turns these old attitudes inside out:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles” (Mt 5:38-41).

We are told to “go the extra mile” out of love for God and for our neighbor. We are challenged to let go of any resentments caused by sins that have been committed against us, and we are instructed to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

In Sunday’s second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Phil 3:8-14) this new way of thinking is affirmed. As Paul says, “Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14).

What will the scribes and Pharisees gain by stoning a woman in fulfillment of the mosaic law? Satisfaction? Righteousness? A sense of moral superiority? Also, what about the man who was her partner in the act of adultery? While the accusers focus on condemning the woman, there is no mention of the man’s guilt.

Jesus sees through their hypocrisy. He writes things in the sand that capture their attention and cause them to gradually walk away. Then he says these incredibly powerful words of love and mercy: “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” (Jn 8:10-11).

Jesus does not say, “You’ve done nothing wrong.” He explicitly tells her to change her ways. But the way he treats this particular sinner, and, we can assume, her partner, is the same way he treats all of us sinners. He respects us, loves us, and invites us to repent and sin no more.

When it comes to selfishness and sin, all of us live in glass houses. None of us has any business throwing stones at anyone else regardless of the seriousness of their sins. This does not mean we should tolerate injustice or ignore the evil things that are done to others. We are challenged to speak out against all forms of abuse—especially to the most vulnerable members of our society—and to work for justice and peace in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our world. But we are challenged to do this Jesus’ way—with humility, compassion and self-sacrificing love.

As we continue our Lenten journey, let’s pray for the courage and the wisdom to follow Jesus’ example, and to be both merciful and just. †

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