St. Patrick’s parish is in Kowloon, Hong Kong. There are four weekend Masses including a children’s Mass at 10:45, Sunday. This is the parish where I was formerly pastor. [email protected]. Cf. also Social Concerns Education: www.acpp.org -- Fr. Gene Thalman M.M.]
“Jesus …started tracing on the ground with his finger.”
Jesus was an angry man. Frequently in his parables Jesus talks of angry people. On a number of occasions, Jesus himself was very angry. When he threw the hawkers out of the temple, he was violently angry. But today’s gospel shows Jesus at his angriest. I’ll tell you why.
Let’s look at the background of today’s account.
According to Mosaic law, two witnesses were required to prove something bad happened between this girl and her gentleman friend. How convenient that there just “happened to be” two witnesses present. It is quite possible that the Pharisees, with the cooperation of her husband-to-be, conspired to entrap her and the “fellow”--together? I wonder what happened to the “fellow.” Was he was a track star and evaded the witnesses. Or was he the son of an important official? The Pharisees addressed their question to Jesus with solemnity and deference. But Jesus smelt skunk!
But another piece of background also explains why Jesus is so angry. According to the Mosaic law, if a married woman did something bad with a fellow, she was to be put to death by strangulation. On the other hand, if a betrothed girl did the same thing before her wedding day, her punishment was to be stoned to death. That is why we know that this girl was betrothed but not married. Since girls married quite young this young woman brought before Jesus was probably between twelve and fifteen years old.
That girl standing in front of him made Jesus think of another young fifteen year old teenager, his mother, Mary. When Mary was not yet married but betrothed to a young man called Joseph, she was found to be “with child.” If Joseph had not been a loving person, these same Pharisees would have been delighted to threw rocks at his mother until she was nothing but a bloody sack of broken bones.
Jesus was so angry that he just couldn’t say anything. He had a powerful temper. He was red hot with rage. If you ask me, I bet his first impulse was to beat the living daylights out of these Pharisees. To get a grip on his emotions and cool off, Jesus knelt down and “doodled” [“…starting tracing on the ground with his finger.” NAB Jn 8: 6.]
Now if Jesus said: “Let her go” the Pharisees would say Jesus was soft on sins against marriage and didn’t follow the law. On the other hand, if Jesus condemned her to death and said: “Take your rocks and bash her to death”, he would have big trouble with the Roman government. You see according to Roman law, adultery was not a capital offense. Jesus could have been arrested for inciting a lynching.
When at length his nerves had settled and Jesus determined a plan of action, Jesus stood up and said: “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Again he knelt on the ground. But instead of doodling he “wrote” [NAB: Jn. 8. 8] words on the sand. So what might Jesus have written in the sand? Many commentators guess that Jesus wrote the secret sins of each of the Pharisees. The oldest guy was curious and took a peek. He turned pale. For the first time in his life, this Pharisee discovered a whole new dimension of his sinfulness. It wasn’t a pretty sight. As soon as Jesus erased what he had written, the old fellow quietly slipped away. And the next Pharisee took his place with the same embarrassing results.
This morning Jesus gives us a beautiful example of cool, calculating and effective anger. We hope that as a result of Jesus’ carefully planned response, each of these Pharisees realized how much he needed God’s mercy and never again did such a mean thing to any child. We hope that henceforth each of these Pharisees treated his fellow sinners with mercy. And made society a place where young girls like this lady found it easy to stay out of trouble with sweet-talking fellows.
FINALE: If you will try to get “smart angry” during the coming week, stand up and recite the Creed.
March 28, 2004 Fifth Sunday Lent © JOHN 8: 1-11
TWO WORDS: Anger of Jesus
THEME: Jesus teaches us the dynamics of anger.
TEXT: “Jesus …started tracing on the ground with his finger.”
“In Jesus the wrath of God is revealed. Jesus’ conduct is not that of a stoic who is never stirred (Jn 11,33) for he forcefully commands Satan (Mt 4:10; 16,23) and levels threats against the demons (Mk 1,25). He is beside Himself at the diabolical cunning of men (Jn 8,44). His anger rises against …the hypocrites (Mt 15,7). … Most of all His wrath stirs against those who would not show themselves merciful (Mk 3,5)…”
“Wrath”, Xavier Leon-Dufour, ed., trans. P. Joseph Cahill S.J. Biblical Dictionary (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1967), p. 605
[Prominence of Anger in Gospels: Mt 4,10; 16, 23; Mk 1, 25; Mt 12, 34; 23, 33; 15, 7; Mk 1, 43; Mt 9, 30; 17,17; Mk 3, 5; Lk 15, 28; 14, 21; Mt 18, 34; 11, 20f; 21, 12f etc.]
UNINTENTIONAL IGNORANCE “Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. … The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense as can external pressures [emphasis added] or pathological disorders.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, (Mission Hills: Benziger Publishing Co, 1994), #1860 p. 455.
1. Background: This passage was not included in the first editions of the four
gospels. This passage was like an unwanted child and drifted around the primitive Christian community and from gospel to gospel until finally ended up in John. The early Christians were uncomfortable with this passage. Jesus seemed to be soft on fornication. If they didn’t punish her severely, perhaps other girls would follow her example.
2. One Pharisee only talked to his friends after Mass. There were some non-
Catholics children who came but he and the other adults never talked to them. After awhile this little girl didn’t come back to our Church and one day a man came by and spoke kind words to her. At the thought, another Pharisee walked away.
3. One of the Pharisees was asked to start a youth program. But he pretended to
be humble and said that he didn’t have any skills in working with children. So this young lady played on the streets. She met some people who did welcome her and one day a man came by and spoke kind words to her. At the thought another Pharisee walked away.
4. Another man in the crowd was a leader in the village. He knew that an
influential member of the town was running a brothel. He feared reprisals and ignored the situation. So one day a man from the company spoke kind words to this young lady. That Pharisee also walked away.
5. Jesus showed mercy to these men by gently (or maybe not so gently)
uncovering the evil sickness in their hearts. In our own time, we too show mercy by exposing the injustices in the world. When Christians confront a situation of misery, they are not only merciful to the miserable; they are also merciful to the people who cause this misery. Christians are always open to discovering new dimensions of sin in their our own lives and in our society. Christians are merciful to both groups of people
those who knew they were miserable sinners.
those who did not yet know they were miserable sinners.
March 28, 2004 Fifth Sunday Lent © JOHN 8: 1-11
1. What was the attitude of the Pharisees toward the sinful woman? They “used” her sin in order to trap ________.
2. In today’s gospel, the Pharisees discovered that they were ____________.
3. Why do you think that Jesus wrote on the ground? __________________
4. The Catechism tells us what three things are required for a grave sin?
A. ____________ B. ________________ C. ____________
5. Explain why this passage of John 8: 1-11 was often missing from some of the early gospel accounts and had difficulty finding a permanent residence.