Casting Stones: A Monastery Lenten Penance Service Reflection

Before you begin reading, pretend to pick up a stone. Hold it in your hand as you read. You will find out at the end of the reflection what to do with it!

Paul tells us, “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” How different that exhortation is from the adulteress’s scene in the Gospel! The Scribes and Pharisees have brought before Jesus an adulterous woman, and they mean business. They are ready to stone her to death.  She is trapped. No getting away for her.
“Now,” they say to Jesus, “in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman.  So what do you say?”  (We’ve got him trapped too, seems to be their thinking.) But knowing their motives are based on entrapment and judgment, Jesus avoids answering their question. When they persist, Jesus uses some great Contemplative Dialogue. He doesn’t get angry, he doesn’t preach, he doesn’t even get ruffled. He just makes a very powerful statement that is packed with Non-Violent Communication: “Let the one among you who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

Not what they expected.  The tables were turned.  They had asked, “So,…what do you say?” hoping for a judgment against the woman and a possible way to ensnare Jesus. But Jesus pointed the finger back at them.  Now what to do with the stones???

How often we are like the Pharisees, seeing the sins, faults, differences, failings of others, trying to find ways to prove others wrong, to demean and embarrass others, while justifying or overlooking our own sins and weaknesses. How many had their stone in hand – ready to exact punishment, when Jesus told them very calmly, “Go ahead. Stone her, IF YOU are without sin.” Dead silence before you almost hear those stones, falling one by one, to the ground. The shuffle of feet as one by one they turn away, wrestling with the awareness of their own sinfulness.

How many stones do we carry around in our lives, ready to pitch at another the moment they trespass against us? Stones of revenge, judgment, anger, greed, self-righteousness, anger: the list can get quite long and the stones very heavy. The more stones, the heavier and greater our burden. Have you ever noticed how we are the ones who get burdened and not the one against whom we’d like to pelt that stone?

Jesus invites us to put down the stones we are carrying, whether they are stones of our own sinfulness or stones of judgment of another. In other words, Jesus wants us to seek forgiveness for those sins (stones) we would much rather not acknowledge. Jesus wants us open our tightly clenched fists and drop the bitterness we hold against others.

Stones are all unique. Some are very beautiful. So also, it is with each of us. God has made us each a unique and beautiful being. Yes, stones can be beautiful, but when they are used to hurt and harm another they turn ugly very quickly. So too, the stones we carry about may appear quite lovely to us, but the harm we do with them can be brutal and even death-dealing.  We really must stop casting stones and put down the bagful we are carrying.

But now, what about the adulterous woman? There she stands: fearful, grateful, embarrassed, not knowing what to do. Jesus breaks the silence. “Has no one found you guilty?” “No one, sir,” she says. In other words, “Wasn’t anyone without sin?” “I guess not,” she replies.

Then the mercy of Jesus once more surfaces. Jesus doesn’t give her a lesson on living celibate chastity, he doesn’t tell her she needs to change the company she keeps, or that he might not be there to rescue her the next time. No, his response is: “Then neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more.”

WOW!  So simple!  So right! Love the sinner, hate the sin! And that is exactly what Jesus did.
Did you ever think that maybe the “Go your way and sin no more” was also meant for all those in the crowd who were dropping stones in the realization of their own sinfulness? Jesus forgave them too. Did you ever think that those words were Jesus’ invitation to you to drop your stones and sin no more?

Today, as you entered the chapel for our service, you picked up a symbolic stone. I invite you to carry it with you to confession as a sign of your sin. After your confession, I invite you to lay your rock down in the box of sand, to joyfully let go of your sins, for you will have heard the merciful words of Jesus, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more.”

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