April 7, 2019 – Fifth Sunday in Lent
Three fifth grade boys went into the school restroom. While in there, one of the boys, Joe, pulled a marker from his pocket and wrote something inappropriate on the tile wall. He laughed and called the other two boys over to show off his work. Upon seeing it, they didn’t really respond one way or the other. In their judgment, Joe was a bit odd and they didn’t have much use for him. Besides that, writing on the bathroom wall meant trouble, and the other boys were rule followers – they were “good boys” and wanted nothing to do with it.
Later that day, when it was time to dismiss for afternoon recess, Sr. Scholastica dismissed the girls in the class, but told the boys to stay put. The boys were afraid of Sister, everyone was afraid of Sister, so they were all doing a quick mental inventory of everything they’d done that day, hoping they were not going to be the focus of her wrath.
She informed the boys that it had come to her attention that someone made the very poor decision to write on the bathroom wall – with marker. This was double trouble. Writing on the bathroom wall was strike one, and using a marker was an immediate strike two. Markers were only allowed to be out when Sister told the students to take them out.
She asked if anyone knew who had done this. No one spoke, but the two good boys turned and looked at Joe.
Sister walked to the front of Joe’s desk and asked him if he had written on the bathroom wall – with a marker. He knew he was busted and said, “Yes.”
“Very well,” she said, and dismissed the rest of the boys for recess, asking the last person out to please close the door.
The two good boys were the last ones out and they closed the door behind them. However, they were eager to hear the fireworks, so they stayed near the door.
Sr. Scholastica’s voice had two distinct qualities when she was upset. Her voice was very loud and the more upset she got, the higher the pitch of her voice. If you were not the one getting in trouble, it could be quite amusing. Listening from the door, the good boys were enjoying themselves, trying very hard not to laugh out loud.
As she completed her discipline of Joe, the two boys ran away from the door and out to the playground. They proceeded to tell everyone what had happened.
They told about what happened in the bathroom, making fun of Joe and his odd ways as they shared the story. They repeated word for word everything Sr. Scholastica had said to Joe, imitating her high-pitched voice and even adding in some of her mannerisms for good measure.
Unfortunately for those boys, another teacher overheard them and shared what she’d seen and heard with Sister. So, after school, it was the two good boys that found themselves in front of her.
In her loud, high-pitched voice she shared her anger with them. Then, when she had finished, she calmly said, “What you have done by making fun of others and spreading gossip is just as bad as what Joe did.” She ended by asking this question: “Is this how Christians are supposed to act?”
I can tell the story as if I was there…because I was. I was a good boy and that question from Sister has echoed in my head many times over the years. It can be a great reflective exercise to ponder that question occasionally.
All three of today’s readings answer Sister’s question: No, as a society, we are not acting as Christians are supposed to act. There needs to be a new way of doing things. The current way is unproductive. We are called to consider new possibilities, to assume a new attitude from a new perspective.
In the first reading from Isaiah, we heard: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new.
From Paul’s letter to the Philippians: …forget what lies behind but strain forward to what lies ahead.
And finally, in John’s gospel, Jesus showed the Pharisees the new way in response to their question. They asked: Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?
This gospel has very real application for us, especially during the Lenten season. While Jesus writing on the ground is very dramatic and intriguing, it is what happens immediately before that act, and immediately after, that speaks to us, informs us, and guides us today.
It is interesting to note that Jesus did not immediately respond to the Pharisees’ challenge but instead remained silent. He could have responded quickly, telling them that the law was inadequate, and scolding them for their lack of compassion and mercy. He did not; he was silent.
When considering this gospel passage, St. John Paul II once wrote, “By his silence, Jesus invited everyone, the accused and the accusers, to self-reflection.”
Take a moment, Jesus said with his silence, before throwing that stone, to examine your own conscience. Rather than a lecture on compassion, he invited them to consider their own sinfulness.
You may think you’re off the hook since you have never physically picked up a stone and thrown it at someone. You might ask, “How does this apply to me?”
The stones we throw are not made of minerals. They consist of the gossip we spread, and the hurtful words we speak to and about others, post about others on the internet, or even think about others.
Our stones include the grudges that we hold.
Our stones are the dismissive, judgmental attitude we show toward certain groups of people.
Whether the stones are thoughts, words, or actions, they can do harm. They can do harm to others as well as to ourselves.
Is what we hear on TV and read in social media really the best society can do? All the hostility and divisiveness and intolerance? Maybe it is the best society can do. If it is, then are we choosing to reflect society’s values or the values of a Christian? As Sr. Scholastica asked, “Is this how Christians are supposed to act?”
What happened after Jesus was done writing in the dirt reveals why it is important for us to choose our actions carefully.
If you choose to follow society’s lead, I hope you’re prepared.
The gospel says, So Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
As the Pharisees walked away from the scene, all that was left was Jesus and the sinner. So, it will be for every one of us when we meet Jesus to receive our eternal judgment – when all is said and done, it will just be you and Jesus.
Will we say we just followed along, going in whatever direction society led us? Or will we be able to say with confidence that we acted the way Christians are supposed to act?