April 11, 2011 - Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today's Readings

The two stories today are similar because they are both fascinating stories. They are similar because both cases deal with the problem of a woman caught in adultery. They are dissimilar though because Susanna is innocent and the woman in the Gospel is guilty. They are dissimilar because, while Daniel was able to save the life of an innocent woman, Jesus saved the life of a guilty one.

How clever Daniel was we can see, because a mastic tree and an oak tree are pretty different, as different as a pine is from an oak. The cleverness of Jesus requires a little more background. The Romans did not allow the Jews to stone anyone caught in adultery, but the Mosaic Law said that that was the right thing to do. So the Pharisees are making Jesus choose between being faithful to the Law and demanding the woman be stoned and obeying the Roman law. If Jesus had been for stoning the woman, the Pharisees would have denounced him to Pilate. There would not have been all the hand-wringing that we saw at the actual trial; Pilate would have quickly ordered the death of anyone who went around stoning people. If Jesus had been against stoning the woman, the Pharisees would have been able to say, “See, even you break God’s Law when it is convenient to do so.” Jesus answer is so clever because he tells the Pharisees to stone the woman, but if they reported it to Pilate he would have laughed at them for being outwitted.

Yet, unlike the “render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar”, we should not be satisfied with this cleverness. The Law of Moses said that every member of the community had to participate in stoning. Even if we agree with Jesus we might want to ask him whether this means that the Old Testament is wrong sometimes. No. It was not wrong; it was only insufficient. Jesus is God. He will never take away the smallest part of the Law, but when the appropriate time comes, he will add a new law. We see Jesus writing down the 11th commandment today. We see him writing it into the very earth as he did with the first 10 commandments. “The first stone shall be cast by the one without sin.” Without taking away any law, and merely adding one slight adaptation to the law, Jesus changed the right interpretation of the Law forever.