7 They continued to question (Jesus), so he stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” 8 Bending down again, he wrote on the ground. 9 Those who heard him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd.
10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”
11 She said, “No one, sir.”
This is one of my favorite stories of Jesus’ life. It comes from the well-known episode about the woman caught in adultery, and the angry crowd that wanted to see her stoned for it. The scene illustrates Jesus’ genius in reading people and his amazing ability to remain absolutely calm in the face of turmoil.
Jesus, I’m sure, couldn’t help but notice that the man was nowhere to be seen, despite the fact that the law required both parties to be stoned (Lev. 20:10). If the woman had been caught “in the act,” as the scripture says, he necessarily must have been there too. Picking up on the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, Jesus defuses the situation by taking his time to respond, bending down to write in the dirt. Then he asks them to reflect on their own lives – and whether they are as blameless as they want people to believe. They walk away, and a woman’s life is saved.
I’ve found that we are often most sensitive about sins and failings in others when they mimic our own. The Franciscan priest and spiritual writer Richard Rohr refers to this as our “shadow self,” when we react to others out of our own discomfort with ourselves. Anything having to do with sex often reveals the guilt and shame of the shadow self. Irrational anger often unmasks it too.
Jesus’ genius was that he could bring the shadow self of an entire angry crowd to light with just a few simple words. What was even more amazing – and even hard to believe – is that they let him! Most of the time we resist, deny, or redirect. “That’s not my problem,” we say. We seldom will admit that we do the very same thing that we say we can’t stand other people doing.
I would like to think that the men who brought the woman to be stoned learned something that day. I’m not sure whether the lesson stuck. But I do know that the more we understand about our “shadow selves,” the more whole we become. Make this your work today.
By Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
Today, when you begin to get upset at something, try to notice responses that seem out of keeping with the actual level of offense. It’s likely that your reaction to that person, situation, or behavior is revealing something about you as well. Then ask God what it is you are meant to learn by that observation.
Prayer: Holy God, we confess that we are often the most blind in the moments when we think we are most righteous. Thank you for your grace that shapes us through our faults and failings. Forgive us and open us to receive Christ’s transforming love. Amen.