Cycle C: John 8: 1-11
The Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery to see if he will condemn her. Jesus simply says to them, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone at her.”
In John Cheever’s short story “The Country Husband,” Francis Weed is attending a cocktail party, when the maid serving the drinks arrests his attention. Francis had seen her before, when he was station in Trenon, France, at the end of World War II. She had been the subject of a public chastisement because she had lived with the German commandant during the Occupation.
It was a cool morning in the fall. The sky was overcast and poured down onto the dirt crossroads a very discouraging light…. The prisoner arrived sitting on a tree-legged stool in a farm cart. She stood by the cart while the mayor read the accusation and the sentence. Her head was bent … [and] when the mayor was finished, she undid her hair … and a little man with a gray mustache cut off her hair with shears and dropped it on the ground. Then, with a bowl of soapy water and a straight razor, he shaved her skull clean. A woman approached and began to undo the fastenings of her clothes…. She [stood there] naked. The women jeered; the men were still … the cold wind made her white skin rough and hardened the nipples of her breasts. The jeering ended gradually, put down by the recognition of their common humanity. (391)
When Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” he invited them to recognize the common humanity that they shared with the woman. He didn’t condemn the Pharisees and scribes any more than he condemn the woman. He simply bent down and gave them time to reflect upon their lives. We are told that they drifted away one by one, beginning with the oldest.
The judgment of the Pharisees and scribes was not rash, for the woman was guilty of adultery. Rather, it was harsh. But once they reflected upon their own sins and their desire for a merciful judgment from God, they could recognize their common, frail humanity in the shamed, guilt ridden creature that stood before them. As their judgments softened, their clenched fists loosened and they released the stones they were holding.
~ A Meditation by Marc Foley, O.C.D.