Friends, today’s Gospel presents the story of the woman caught in adultery, which is one of the clearest demonstrations of what Catholic philosopher René Girard called the scapegoat mechanism.
The scribes and Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman they had caught in adultery. Where must they have been standing and how long must they have been waiting in order to catch her? Their eagerness to find a victim is testimony to the insatiable human need for scapegoats.
The novelty of the Gospel is revealed in Jesus’ refusal to contribute to the energy of the gathering storm: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus directs the energy of scapegoating violence back toward the accusers. He unveils the dangerous secret that the unstable order of the society has been predicated upon scapegoating. The Church Fathers emphasized this point with a neat interpretive move: they imagined that Jesus was writing in the sand none other than the sins of those who were threatening the woman.
Then we see, at least in seminal form, the new order: “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” The connection between Jesus and the woman is not the consequence of condemnation but rather the fruit of forgiveness offered and accepted.
Reflect: Reflect on the prevalence of scapegoating in contemporary culture. Think especially about the times when you have been guilty of singling out an individual or some group as a scapegoat.