Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’
All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them.
What do you remember of your school days? Do you remember the school building, a particular classroom, a daily routine, or do you remember a special teacher? If the strongest memory of your school days is of a teacher, can you identify the attributes that make that teacher so memorable to you? Very often that memorability is rooted in a man or woman’s ability to inspire their pupils or, rather sadly, sometimes it is based on their ability to instil fear. Is that how you are thinking right now? Or do you have more or less nuanced memories of your school days?
For the past one hundred and fifty years attendance at school has been compulsory. For many there are no special memories of their schooldays … it was just something that had to be endured. For some, ‘sitting at the feet’ of a teacher was exciting and formational, for others it was an agonizing ‘waste of time’. But, however you recall those years, you had no choice but to share the ‘school experience’ with every other young person in the country.
In today’s reading we meet Jesus the teacher. In this instance there was no compulsion. Every one of those who gathered around Jesus had chosen to be there. Every man, woman and child who jostled for a place to hear Jesus’ teaching wanted to be there, even if the teacher’s words confronted and challenged so much of what had been, up to that moment, considered to be the undeniable truth. No compulsion was applied to attend but, once the teaching was heard, everyone of those voluntary students was driven into a place where they had to reassess and re-align their beliefs and values.
In today’s reading Jesus, the teacher, addresses our human propensity for pointing the finger of blame. We are all prone to diverting attention away from our own flaws and failures by shining the spotlight on others. Today, Jesus, the teacher, turns the table on us with the words: Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. In so few words Jesus teaches us an unforgettable and truly formational lesson. Of course, we can choose to ignore Jesus’ teaching, but we do so at our own peril. This is teaching that surpasses the instruction of any school teacher. This is teaching that not only leads to a happier and more rounded life but also brings us into a closer relationship with God himself.
Let us rush to get our seat at the front of this teacher’s class, and let us take every word of his teaching and share it with all whom we meet.
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