March 21, 2010
More Holes or Plugs?
A father came home to get a much needed rest. But his little daughter kept pestering him. To keep her quiet, he took a newspaper and cut out a map of the world from it. Then he cut it up into pieces of different sizes. He then told her that she would be rewarded with a chocolate bar when she had “put the world together”. He hoped that this would give him an hour of peace. Five minutes later, she came back telling him that the map was finished and was laid out on the floor. The father was surprised and asked, “How did you get it together so quickly?” “That was easy,” she said, “I just turned the pieces over, and on the other side I saw the picture of a man. When the man was put together right, the world was right.” (A.P. Castle)
That is precisely the mission of Jesus: to restore man to his original beauty and dignity and put the world back in order. He said: “I came that you may have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10). Life in its fullness is nothing else but life in God. We all come from God; we are made for God, and nothing less will really satisfy us. Unfortunately, many of us look for the fullness of life, not in God but in the passing things of this world. This is when problems and troubles arise. When we consider money as the highest good; when selfishness rules our lives and look at other people no longer as human beings but as disposable commodities; when we begin to use one another as pawns and mere instruments for our pleasure and selfish ambition – then serious problems come.
This is the scenario in the Gospel this Sunday. The woman was allegedly caught in adultery. Something must be missing in her life – perhaps the tenderness and care of a loving husband, the harmony and peace at home, a secure future. Whatever it is that is missing, she tried to find it, but in the wrong place – in the arms of another man. And she was caught. She was just looking for something to fill up something lacking in her life, but instead she was about to lose her life.
The same is true with the scribes and Pharisees. They accused the woman and brought her to Jesus. They were not really after the adulteress. They knew that under the Roman regime, they have no authority to sentence anyone to death (cf. Jn 18:31). But they were consumed by their ambition and pride. For them fullness of life is to have full power in the Jewish society. But Jesus is standing in their way. They have to get rid him of him, by hook or by crook. So they used the woman as their pawn or bait to trap him. If Jesus approves of the death sentence, then the crowd would have killed her right then and there. Then Jesus could easily be apprehended by the Roman authorities for inciting the crowd and causing the death of the woman. On the other hand, if he does not approve of the sentence, he would be perceived as too lenient and not serious with the Law of Moses. Then he will lose his credibility among the people. This was really an attempt by the scribes and Pharisees to eliminate Jesus so that they can pursue unhindered their quest for worldly power and gain.
But Jesus did not take the bait. He bent down and wrote on the ground – perhaps so that he will not see their faces and to give everybody enough time to question their motivations. At that moment, Jesus knew that what the woman desperately needed was a second chance – but she knew it was next to impossible. At that moment Jesus knew that the best thing to give to the accusers was enlightenment and awareness of their own sinfulness. Hence, he said, “Let the one among you who has no sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground – to give the accusers the opportunity to slip away one by one without losing face.
The Gospel story today epitomizes the situation of the world. We live in a world that is troubled and in imminent danger of imploding. The reason is because we do not have the real desire to correct our situation. We are all sinful. The sin of the woman is also our sin – not exactly adultery in the carnal sense, but in the spiritual sense. In our unbridled desire for worldly comforts and pleasure, we have turned away from God and chose the false gods of pleasure, money and power. This is the root cause of all our troubles – we have not followed the proper order designed by God for this world and, as consequence, we are destroying ourselves. But instead of helping each other rise up from our weaknesses and failures, we condemn and judge one another, thinking that pulling them down will lift us up and bring us closer to our ambitions. The attitude of the scribes and Pharisees in the Gospel is visibly alive in us until now. It is like being in the same boat, and it is sinking because of the many holes in it. But instead of plugging the holes, we add more holes to it and continue in our bickering and infighting.
Fortunately for all of us, Jesus came – he has come to bring us the fullness of life. He has come to heal our wounds, not to add insult to our injury. He has come to forgive us our sins, not to accuse and condemn us. He has come to bring unity and reconciliation, not enmity and division. To borrow the words of the girl in our story, he has come to “put man together right” so that the “world is right”. He has come to help us plug and close the many and varied holes in the boat of humanity by firmly admonishing us: “From now on, do not sin anymore!”
Holy Week is just seven days away. Let us take this opportunity to bend down in humility, and instead of looking at the sins of others, let us write down our sins on the ground. Let these sins remain on the ground never to be taken up again. Then when Easter comes, we will all rise up victoriously and join the Psalmist in his song: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002