“WILL MY DEMONS WALK AWAY?” (Jn 8:1-11): 10 March 2008 (Monday)
There is a moving scene in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” where after the scourging, Mary the mother of our Lord and Mary Magdalene fall on their knees on the blood-soaked floor to save whatever blood of Jesus they can save. As she does so, Mary Magdalene tearfully remembers her very first encounter with Jesus when she was also down on the floor. In that first encounter, recounted in today’s gospel reading, she has been caught in the act of adultery and is dragged to the public square for stoning.
On one side, there is a bloodthirsty crowd. They have caught an adulteress, and they demand that the law of Moses be implemented literally: that this sinner be stoned to death. But they do so not out of love for justice or righteousness, but out of hatred for Jesus. It is a trap they set for him: By asking him what they should do with the adulteress, they are putting him in a “no-win situation.” If he condemns the woman, Jesus will be guilty of having the woman put to death; if he does not, he will virtually be disobeying the law of Moses.
Wordlessly Jesus watches the scene. What is he thinking? Maybe he’s thinking of his temptation in the desert (after all. he is also being tempted now) when the devil asked him to turn stone into bread. Perhaps this is one occasion when he actually considers doing just that, if only to spare the woman’s life.
Or maybe he is thinking of his own mother, Mary, who could have easily been dragged to a similar public square in Nazareth and subjected to the same humiliation and the same danger if Joseph, his foster father, hadn’t been a righteous and compassionate man.
Now he stands there heartbroken at the sight of this woman before him. The crowd eagerly waits for him to walk into their trap. The woman is just a pawn in their game. Never mind if she is humiliated in the process. And never mind if she ends up getting killed.
What does our Lord do? He stoops down and begins writing on the ground with his finger. Many writers have wondered about what our Lord is writing about. Some say that he is probably listing down the sins of those judging and condemning the adulteress, causing the crowd to eventually disperse. After all, there is nothing like reading about your deepest darkest sins in broad daylight to shame you and melt away your self-righteousness.
Maybe it doesn’t matter what he writes. Maybe he is writing just to look away because he can’t bear to watch the ugliness of the scene. Or maybe he is writing to waste some time, to create some time and space for the people around him to have a moment of decision.
In his book Writing in the Dust (After September 11), Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has this to say about the scene: “[Jesus] allows a moment, a longish moment, in which people are given time to see themselves differently precisely because he refuses to make the sense they want…. So this is writing in the dust because it tries to hold that moment for a little longer, long enough for some of our demons to walk away.”
The demons of self-righteousness in the crowd do eventually walk away. But even the woman caught in adultery, watching Jesus write on the ground, also experiences this walking away of demons because she too has her share of them, as we all do. The compassion of Jesus melts her hardened heart and gives her to resolve to turn away from her sins.
So here’s a Quick Question for you: “With Holy Week approaching, where do you find yourself in this scene: Are you part of the self-righteous crowd, or do you at this point identify with the sinner?” The kind of demon that needs to walk away from you will depend on where you find yourself in the scene. Think about it, and share a thought, a feeling, or a question.
(image: from “The Passion of the Christ”)