Gospel Reading: John 8: 1-12
Learning to enter Passiontide with Christ is to learn to enter into all the darkest places of earthly and human life. He holds them all within his aura of love, within his own being. He has said yes to the earth and humanity as his body, and so he has said yes to all the ways that body is out of balance, all the illnesses it carries, all the ways it is not yet fit to carry and support the free unfolding of the spirt within. He says yes, and writes into it, by bending down to the earth, new words of power that allow us with him to overcome the influence of death, and being imprisoned in the past.
The Law given through Moses forbade the individual from taking of another human life, but it allowed for justice to be carried out by the community. No individual human being had to be solely responsible for the death of one who broke the Law, but justice could be served by the group, in fulfillment of the Law. Thus stoning evolved as the “right” punishment within that community. Each community member could cast a stone—an expression of the sin committed—and only after many had thrown would death come. It was “death by earth”—or death by the weight of the sin—an over-identification with the earthly—as perceived by the many members of the community.
This Law was born in a time in which there was a clear mission to protect the purity of the hereditary stream, so that the one human being could be born—after forty-two generations—who could receive the Being of the Son God into himself. This was the mission of the Hebrew people, and though we can experience such a thing as adultery being punishable by death as gruesome, this law had its reasons.
In the Gospel reading, however, we can observe that it had gone on and become inappropriate as the community had lost its way. Those who bring the woman before Jesus and would stone her do so only to catch Jesus in a trap. Maybe they still carry concern for her law-breaking but it seems they are far more interested in catching someone who seems to be usurping their power. They have not recognized him as the one has come who they have been preparing to receive. He seeks to reveal to them a new impulse that shall lead them forward and help them find justice in the right way, if they can but rightly perceive. It is a clash of cultures.
When they ask him to either confirm that she should be stoned or to show himself blasphemous against the Law of Moses, he does neither, but refrains from outer speech and instead writes something into the earth. His speaking is instead through action, and the words he uses hidden from sight, perhaps only readable in the future.
The answer he gives is not an answer to their question but rather a whole new statement which they seem to take into their souls: the one who is without sin, be the first to cast a stone. The Law is in a sense already fulfilled, because instead of following it without question, the authorities gathered there seem to turn now to their own inner conscience. Is this not the goal of the Law, to birth this in the human being and make outer laws unnecessary as the moral human being evolves and grows to act independently in a way that is right for everyone? The question that is not voiced but seems to resound is: Can I throw a stone if I myself am also a sinner? The individual who participates in the meting out of justice now suddenly matters.
A new path of transformation is inaugurated. The individual is liberated to a new responsibility for oneself. Even the one who has broken the social agreements she lived within, she too is given a grace pass. She is offered instead of punishment a chance to restore herself going forward. These radical acts are moments of Christmas. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Light, the birth of the One who is Himself the Being of Light, the light that heals all that is sundered because within the light all can be rightly seen. Christ, referring to what is now born into he world through his being said:
I AM the Light of the World. Whoever walks with me does not walk in darkness but will have the light in which there is life.
In earth and human darkness, we long for the light. The need for an outer Law lessens as the God Light is born in the human soul, and true deeds of goodness shall flow into life. As this light grows stronger, perhaps we will become ones who can read the future word that has been written into the earth.