John 8:1-11, Fifth Sunday of Lent
A month ago, a friend of mine was coming home from a wake of his friend’s dad. The man committed suicide, which was tragic in itself. But I don’t know which was more tragic: that a father committed suicide, or that none of the priests in the nearby parish wanted to say mass for him. It used to be a law in Church—to deny funeral rites to people who took their own lives. But thanks to psychology, anthropology, spirituality, philosophy, it finally dawned on Churchmen that people who commit suicide could not have been in the proper frame of mind and freedom of decision. And besides, saying mass for them doesn’t mean you condone suicide. It means you care for his soul, and you console and commiserate with his family. So to not say mass today for a man who committed suicide is wrong.
The same thing goes with baptizing infants with unmarried parents. That was forbidden for a long time in the past. But it finally dawned on Churchmen that it wasn’t the infants’ fault that their parents were unmarried. So today, to not baptize an infant with unmarried parents is wrong. And did you know that in the past, if your forefinger and/or thumb was missing or deformed, you couldn’t be admitted into a seminary. And if those fingers were harmed while you were in seminary, they had to ask permission from the pope for you to be ordained. Why? Because those were the fingers you held the body of Christ with. To not have them was an impediment to the priesthood. That was the law, can you imagine? That’s no longer true now, because it finally dawned on Churchmen that the lack of a few fingers didn’t mean the lack of vocation. So, to not admit a man into the seminary today, or not ordain him because he has missing fingers, is wrong.
“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What do you say?” The law was one of the holiest things Jews were trained to keep and respect—from the time they had their wits about them to their deathbed. You did not violate the law. It was everything. And the law commanded: if two male witnesses caught a man and a woman in the act of adultery, both the man and the woman must be put to death. Now I don’t know where the adulterous man went in the Gospel. Maybe he was able to escape, or they were still running after him, or maybe they let him go. We don’t know. The point is, Jews lived and moved and had their being by the law. The law was God’s will, God’s voice, God signature. And according to that law, adulterers must be stoned to death.
“Okay,” Jesus said, after a bit of think time which he probably spent drawing on the sand. “Go ahead. The one among you without sin, be the first to start killing her.” Silence. Ang mga nanggalaiting kalalakihan, natameme. Suddenly, nobody wanted to fling the first stone. Because that would have been tantamount to saying, “I have no sin,” which would’ve made him equal to God, which would’ve been blasphemy, which would have been punishable by stoning! See? But wait, no! We are compelled by law to kill an adulteress. Sacred law says so. ‘Yun ang batas. Batas ng Diyos. Boses ng Diyos. Pirma ng Diyos. “Then your law is wrong,” you could almost hear Jesus scream through his silence. “Your law is dead wrong. Which part of ‘thou shalt not kill’ do you people not understand?”
And that was exactly what the Lord did all of his life: to not kill; instead, to give life, maintain life, rehabilitate. He rehabilitated the blind, the lame, the deaf, the possessed, the lepers, the tax collector, the harlots—hopeless sinners in the eyes of the Jews, best left alone, best left “dead.” But the God Jesus worshipped would have no one killed, not even when proven guilty, not even when caught in the act. If there was a law that did not and must not change, it was “thou shalt not kill,” because the God of Jesus, the right God, was a God of hope and life.
When you imagine the scene that day, doesn’t it blow your mind how such law-abiding, God-fearing, God-worshipping people could also be so bloodthirsty? Look at them in your imagination: men feverishly getting their fists around good-sized rocks to pummel the daylights out of this harlot, this malandi, this mang-aagaw ng asawa. Jesus couldn’t believe it either: people protecting the holy law, hungry for a kill. How does that happen? How could faithfulness to God and morality turn murderous?
Well, that was exactly St. Paul’s rude awakening. He used to kill Christians & thought he was being a righteous Pharisee. But then, as we read in the second reading today, Paul finally said, “I do not have any righteousness based on the law, but righteousness that comes only through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God.” How was one “righteous” from God? Paul said: “To know Christ, the power of his resurrection, the sharing of his sufferings and his death.” In other words, we are not righteous because we want sinners dead in the name of God. We become righteous in being like Christ who served the God of life and resurrection. In other words, you don’t protect God by killing sinners. You become like God when you’d rather die in order to save them.
We all love a scapegoat, dear sisters and brothers. Scapegoating is the modus operandi not just of a mindless crowd. Even highly educated lay and religious people, CEOs, generals, superiors, presidents—we all love a scapegoat. Well, if our faith in God makes us murderous in thought, word and deed, whether we kill for a living and get paid for it, or kill by social media, kill by fake news, kill by manipulation of impression, kill by cursing and by swearing—yes, even if the person we stone is guilty—once we become murderous and do it in the name of God, it’s no longer righteousness. It’s scapegoating. Jesus will have us know: “You’re obeying the wrong law. You’re worshipping the wrong god. No matter how righteous you feel, you are wrong. Dead wrong.”