The Fifth Sunday of Lent

April 7, 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Isaiah 43, 16-21 + Psalm 126 + Philippians 3, 8-14 + John 8, 1-11

Today we get a report from St John about mob violence which is something that sadly is still too common. We have seen it over and over again in the past years from Charlottesville, Virginia to Suburbs of St. Louis, and Pittsburgh. It happens with gangs of bullies on school playgrounds and parks, and today we hear about it in the Gospel of John. It has become so common that we are almost insensitive to it, and that is dangerous. The danger lies in the fact that any of us could be caught up in this senselessness at any time or in any place. Mob action is always anonymous, and the mob can end up doing things that are as self-destructive as they are offensive. In that anonymity a mob can get away with doing things most of those people in the mob would never think of doing if they were in their right mind. What we see in the news if often good people who somehow have lost their bearings, have surrendered to some collective madness that leads them into behavior and thinking that is far from the reality of their lives and their goodness. That mass action of a mob generates feelings of indisputable righteousness even when the behavior is contemptible. We’ve seen this all through history to the shame of the human family and even the church. The Spanish Inquisition made the Roman Coliseum look like a picnic. A century later it was witch hunts in Salem, then came the mob lynching we are just beginning recognize here in this country only to move on to Selma, and Charlottesville.

These people who drag that woman before Jesus were probably good people angry and fed-up with something they abhor and something that strikes at the values of their lives and the community in which they live and want raise their children. The whole scene, ugly as it is, puts both of them, the woman and the mob on trial. The woman is exposed in public. There are witnesses, perhaps even the man with whom she committed that adultery was hiding the crowd. Imagine that. Anonymity is a safe place to hide. They want to force Jesus to choose between the law and mercy. He doesn’t choose. The fact is, and they knew it: the same law that required an adulteress be stoned demanded the same punishment for a rebellious child. They knew that, and no one among them had ever stoned their child for drinking, smoking, or wrecking the car!

What Jesus is doing here is get the crowd to come to its senses. He shows a merciless crowd what mercy can do. He gets them to realize that genuine religion invites people to ask for and rejoice in forgiveness rather than pretending or even attempting perfection. They left one by one John tells us. Perhaps in breaking up the mob, those people could only look at themselves in truth and in all honesty without the fake righteousness of the mob. Jesus does not let the woman off easily. He firmly instructs her to stop sinning, but his real focus is on those who accuse others and excuse themselves. Perhaps, when his successor assumes the burdens of the papacy, Pope Francis will be remembered for one thing he said that touches us all: “Who am I to judge?” When we finally embrace what that question means, we will be well along the way to have established peace, and build up the Kingdom of God.

Father Tom Boyer