Lessons In Mercy

Reading       John 8:1-11


        Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.

        When the scribes and Pharisees kept on questioning him,

       Jesus straightened up and said to them,

       “Let anyone amongst you who is without sin

      Be the first to throw a stone at her.”

       And once again Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground.

       When the scribes and Pharisees heard what Jesus has said,

      they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders;

        and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.



Today’s Gospel brings Jesus into close confrontation with both this accused woman caught in adultery and the band of accusers who have brought her out into the public portico where he was sitting. Now it appears that this is another one of the Pharisees carefully contrived set-ups to catch Jesus in the act and discredit him and his teaching in front of his followers. The Pharisees needed to see what Jesus would do or say? Will he uphold the Mosaic Law that says the punishment for adultery is stoning to death? Or, will he show mercy and let her go free? Possibly, this will be the final test that will put a stop to his ministry. We too, need to look closely and examine the response of Jesus to both the accusers and this woman. Once again, the Teacher points us to deeper and more penetrating lessons to be learned from serious moral offenses.  


Jesus sees into the hearts of us humans and knows the stirrings of judgment and condemnation that easily surge up when faced with the exposing of our own sin and moral choices or that of others. He observes how quick some can be to accuse and shame the sinner, the vulnerable one. Such fast reactions and verbal outcries of disgust can too often cloud the truth and reveal the hardness of heart that has been hiding behind the Law. These accusers need to be taught how to execute justice with mercy and compassion.


So, in strikingly brilliant spiritual practice, Jesus chooses a calm, nonviolent action. His response, contrary to a reaction, is to silently bend down and doodle with his finger in the sand. This pause, this silence, this taking-a-breather, a-step-away from the heated debate and controversy, that is loaded with guise and trickery, is a pure movement of grace. Here in the depths of his being He touches divine mercy and forgiveness. From this centre of his person he restores the balance of justice in this situation. He will speak the truth to both the accusers and the accused woman. Both will receive a challenge and a release from their sinfulness and fragile humanness. They both ‘miss the mark’ of living in their true authentic selves and He knows that this moment – yes, even this moral lapse – can be an instrument to bring these souls closer to God. The scriptures abound with stories of men and women who had an encounter with Jesus that became the pivotal point of their conversion experience. It is beautiful to watch how Jesus leads both to an understanding of the Law of Love that ushers in the kingdom of God.


To the accusers, he looks up and speaks intently to them. Instead of answering their direct question, he challenges them to study their own hearts first before “casting the first stone.” This very specific examination of consciousness will allow the divine light to shine upon their own conscience. In quiet humble reflection there upon their own life they will ‘see more clearly’ the truth and the justice of the matter.  Be cautious, he says to them, before judging another. Take the plank out of your own eye so you can see the splinter in your neighbors.


“He that is without sin among you let him cast the first stone.”


With these simple words, he had pierced through their armour and reached into their very hearts. Oh, how their hearts must have tingled at the touch of this pure wisdom and clarity. For this they were not prepared. They were silent now. There was nothing more to say. If they attempted to speak, this all-seeing Man might humble them beyond what they could bear this day. One by one, they turned and walked away. I hope some among the men that day felt converted, recovered from their blindness and welcomed in more of this transforming mercy and kindness.


When everyone had gone, he looked up once again from his doodling in the sand and gazed steadily upon this woman. She was still standing there covered with shame. She had not run away in her presumed freedom. She had been awaiting his sentence. Have you ever noticed that sinners, for some reason, don’t need to hide from Jesus. She was honest in her confession. Her heart was truthful. Though he never asked her if she was guilty of this offence, she had nothing to hide from him. He looked at her in such a way that the guilt and shame and sin fell away. She forgot her captors, her serious moral lapse, her agony of this trial. She became enveloped in the trust and love and courage that Jesus’ presence bestowed upon her. She was in no hurry to move away.  

                           And Jesus said, "Neither will I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”



Let us pray that we may enter into this Lenten season with our hearts exposed and brought into the light and presence of this excessively merciful Jesus of Nazareth. There is no one outside the kingdom and we all need to be gazed upon to receive this beautiful forgiveness and mercy. The “stone-throwing” days must soon be over or the human spirit will perish under the strain of our collective raging angers, cruel verbal lashings and belittling gossips. It is the time for healing and restoration and coming into the Truth and Light and Love. I, for one, am so glad they brought the woman caught in adultery out to meet Jesus that day. I too, will put down my stone and walk away, humbled, wiser, yearning for more of this mercy to grow in my being, day by day!



Carrying Grace     I will spend more time in ‘doodling’ prayer this week.   



#3 jar4 2010-03-22 00:29
"The “stone-throwing ” days must soon be over or the human spirit will perish under the strain of our collective raging angers, ...."
#2 Mark Dickinson 2010-03-21 01:40
Truly a beautiful message! The Scriptures purposely do not tell us what Jesus wrote in the sand .. .the symbol or word(s) is not important .. for the message is human blindness. We do not see what we should, and what we should not see -- at times when we should look beyond -- we too frequently stop to focus all the more intently .. on the wrong thing. Jesus reminds us that .. we must see the woman's need for compassion, and love. Healing does not begin with hurtful words; healing reaches deep into the soul, where it finds the presence, and comfort, of G-d ... patiently waiting to respond with the Eternal Love that only G-d can give us. Too often, we see with cold, human hearts .. eager to attack and accuse. Our model, however, are the words and compassion of Jesus. Let us be blind to judgement and accusation .. and, instead, let us see with the Wisdom, and Vision, of the Compassionate One.
#1 arletteh 2010-03-20 23:29
What a wonderful insight, that Jesus was putting a buffer zone between the challenge and his response. I never thought of the "doodling'" that way.It just struck me again that Jesus had come from a night of prayer at the Mount of Olives.He knew going back to the Temple area would demand the deepest truth from inside himself:gentlen ess and forgiveness,yet also to put before his listeners the demands to live a sinless life .Oh the marvels of contemplation!o f prayer!Thank you,rosemary, for passing on your life's experiences to us! Thank you to all of you who share your own faith experiences that are drawn out in these lessons!

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