Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent | Readings: Daniel 13:1–9, 15–17, 19-30, 33–62; John 8:1–11
In the seminary these readings were always wonderfully challenging for us celibates. We would watch our professors twitch with discomfort as we read publicly in church of a naked woman bathing, open voyeurism, lustful elders who told bold lies to cover their sin and to condemn innocent Susanna. “Bring me oil and soap,” said Susanna to the maids, “and shut the garden door while I bathe.” Little did she know that there were dirty old men hiding behind the bushes.
The wise celebrant of the day invariably encouraged that we use the shorter version of the reading. So we went back to our rooms and checked out the full thirteenth chapter of the book of Daniel. We felt sorry for the poor Protestants who had excised this from the official canon and even called it “apocrypha.” This was good—bad—stuff!
But it was fortunately followed by the wonderful Gospel about the adulterous woman, who is caught and yet freed. In Scripture class it became apparent that this story was rather clearly “inserted” into John 8, since it does not follow from, nor lead to, the texts before or after, and it is not found in the earliest manuscripts. All agree today that it is canonical, and perhaps actually from Luke in another place, and we are very glad it is official biblical text, for the message is superb and needed.
We are all nervous, confused, and guilt-ridden about sex, almost more than anything else. It is what C.G. Jung would call a “complex”—various thoughts or images which hold all kinds of strong and unconscious energy, flowing out in irrational directions. Our reactions are always strange and confused when we are in the grip of a complex, whether it be overly positive or overly negative. We surely see it here in both readings today.
In short, humans have a hard time distinguishing between lust and true love. For most men, it takes much of our lives to know the difference, and we have just such men illustrated in both readings today—and two women the worse for it. Although a dozen needed sermons could come from this Gospel, may it suffice here to highlight one line in our reading that might be the most quoted verse from Jesus, and spoken here in defense of the woman.
If you will allow me one further interpretation, I personally think that Jesus’ bending down to write on the ground (the only example of Jesus writing) was to avoid any confrontational stare and cruel accusation of the men. He wanted them to take responsibility themselves. His love was so gracious and universal that he even wanted to save them from the condemnation of his eyes: “Neither do I condemn you,” he says to both the woman and the men. This is another example of his wonderful “third-way” solutions.
“If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw the stone. Then he bent down and began to write on the ground.” —John 8:7–8
“God of love, you made love so important for our salvation, that you took the risk of us doing it poorly, as we all do. Keep us free from throwing stones at others, so we can see our own clumsy attempts at divine love.”