I stopped by my mom’s house the other day, to sort through some papers while she is recovering from her broken arm. As I drove to the house, I could see the old lot between the houses in the curve of the road. It got me to remembering. I remember that the third base fowl line was a tree in the outfield, and it was very difficult on some fly balls that dropped in to tell if it was fair or fowl. And we’d argue. Sometimes there was a disagreement whether the runner was safe or out. So we’d argue. Sometimes, underneath that pile of bodies, it was hard to tell if the football actually got across the invisible goal line between the fence and the tree. Both sides press their case. After a lot of arguing and shouting and disagreements, the initial energy would calm down a bit. And then someone would say those magic words: “Do-over.” Replay the hit. Replay the down. Do the play over. And we’d all know: “Of course- it is the only way… DO OVER”
Wouldn’t you love to have the power of do-over’s as an adult? You mess up on a huge project and the boss says: “No problem, you get a do-over.” You say something stupid to your spouse/significant other in a moment of anger – they look at you and you realize what you’ve done – and they say: “Let’s back up 5 minutes, you go out the door, and walk in as if it is the first time. You get a do-over.
Two sets of people needed do-over’s in today’s gospel. The woman certainly needed a do-over. According to Mosaic law, she was not long for this earth, even while her male counterpart walked free. The Pharisees pushed and shoved her in front of the crowd, and they made her ‘stand there’ – they held her there – in her sin, in her shame, in their self righteous anger. And if she somehow survived the next moments, she would always be the one caught in the act of adultery. Her past would mark her future forever. Even now, the gospel story is not entitled “The Forgiven Woman” but “The Woman Caught in Adultery”. She needed a major do-over.
But the other group that needed a do-over today was ‘the mob’ – all those who had brought the woman before Jesus. They didn’t care about her – she was collateral damage, an after thought. (If they really were concerned about the Mosaic law, they would have brought the man as well) She was the instrument to get to Jesus. SHE was invisible to that crowd – except as a tool to be used.
So what does Jesus do? Like our neighborhood kids in the sandlot, he lets the energy cool down. He drops to his knees and writes with his finger in the ground. Though the gospel writers do not record the words, we do know that God is the only one who writes with his finger in the Hebrew Testament. So when Jesus writes with his finger, besides letting the energy cool down, he’s saying what is coming next is something that comes from the heart of God. And then he stands and says equivalently: DO-OVER.
To the mob – Jesus invites them to see this woman as one of them – to embrace her as one of their own. “Let the one without sin cast the first stone” – don’t be about judging, but see the common humanity you share. Know that her sin is no different from yours – no more or less in need of punishment then your own hardness of heart. “Stand with her…” Not in condemnation. That is what he wants of them. That is what he hopes for them – that they would love this woman. “Woman, where are they?” – is a sad statement from Jesus’ lips. He had hoped they would stand with her.
To the woman, he holds out a new possibility. He doesn’t deny her actions, doesn’t ask if she was sorry, doesn’t demand a perfect act of contrition and dole out a harsh penance. He simply gives her the possibility of a new future. “Go and sin no more.” Not: Go and be racked with guilt and ponder and be a mess – just – go and begin your life. I give it back to you to start anew. DO OVER.
We know we cannot go back and change the laws of time and physics, we cannot undo the action we have done or others have done. But in the realm of how we respond to what we’ve and others have done, we have huge possibilities of offering do-over’s.
You see, there is a third group that Jesus is speaking to in today’s gospel story. To you and I who struggle with forgiveness of self or the forgiveness of another – Jesus holds out the same offer. “You are not what you have done. They are not what they have done.” Though we clutch those stones of judgment, there is always a more, always a deeper possibility, always a new beginning that the divine mercy holds out to us. Don’t hold yourself in the past. It is done. Don’t put your spouse or friend or the image you see in the mirror in the middle of the circle of your life and stand there with stone in hand ready to crucify them for their failing. Hear the invitation of Jesus: ‘Neither do I condemn you…”
This week the gospel invites us to reflect on two questions: Who stands in the middle of your life – wondering if it is to be the stone that they will know from you – or hoping that you’ll grant them a much needed do-over? And when you look at that face in the mirror, what within you stands in the middle, ready to be judged, not with mercy, but harshly, with condemnation? Give yourself what Jesus gave to the woman and the crowd in the gospel – a chance to do it over again, a chance to get it right.