I have a pretty vivid imagination and I always find it helpful to contemplate the Gospel stories by putting myself squarely into them, as an observer… or a participant. I imagine the surroundings, the sounds, even the smells. I watch the characters in the plot and I often make myself one of them. This allows me to feel the realness of it all. This puts the message of the Gospel story into a different and more vivid context for me. And this helps me to pray.
The story of the woman caught in the act of adultery hasn’t escaped this process. In the past when this Gospel reading has come up, I have imagined what it would be like to be her – accused, frightened, judged, facing stoning. I have also imagined what it would be like to be an observer at the distant periphery and simply watching the scene unfold – seeing her reaction, noticing Jesus writing something in the sand. But this time, over the past few days, I thought of myself as someone in the crowd who was… ticked off. Who wanted justice. Who wanted somebody to pay for this. I even picked up a rock, a real one, and imagined…
… and imagined what it would feel like to be there, holding a rock and getting ready to…
Have you ever seen yourself in this story? If so, have you ever been in the mob? The one who was ready to hurl a rock… which could have come in the form of a harsh judgement or the body language of disgust or sharp and hurtful words? Or maybe it was more subtle than that, maybe it was just a sense that someone wronged you or harmed you in some way? Many times, the ones who are the targets of our arrows are the people from our past. The people who hurt us.
All three readings today deal with what’s in the past.
In the first reading, we hear from Isaiah: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!”
In the second reading, Paul states: “Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead.”
And the woman caught in the act of adultery…
She is allowed because of mercy to move forward and to not have to pay the penalty for her own past when Jesus told her: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
It’s easy to become mired in the past. To be weighed down by it. Even to the point where it defines us, becomes a big part of our identity. But we as Christians have a core belief based upon the simple promise made by a carpenter’s son born in the Middle East some twenty one centuries ago… and that is that there is always a future for us. This is what faith is about and it is squarely grounded in hope.
Sure… but then there is something we have to do too.
Isaiah’s passage is about moving forward and on to something completely new. Paul’s is about his own moving on from being a persecutor of the Gospel to one who defended it. And the woman in the Gospel got a second chance. Furthermore, all those people in the mob, the ones who were ready to hurl rocks, had their hearts softened by an invitation to consider their own imperfections and the realization that they too might someday seek mercy.
God opens up a future for us but it is up to us to get up off of the pavement and to walk forward towards it.
If you have ever found yourself stuck on the pavement, grounded by your own history, swallowed up by those from your past who have hurt you… Jesus understands. He invites you and me forward, though. To be a people of the future. To let go of the rocks we’re clinging to… to be a people of mercy.
And maybe most of all… to be a people of hope.