Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. John (8:2-12)
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
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, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."The Gospel of the Lord.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life."
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
I have to say, this Mystery of the Rosary has always been a bit hard for me to meditate on. The subject, Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom, is rather vague. All the other mysteries are specific events, contained in one or two passages of Scripture, mostly. But for about three years, all Jesus did was preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. It's hard to narrow that down into one soundbite.
In order to do so, though, I usually refer to the Beatitudes, naming one per Rosary Bead of the decade, and finishing the tenth bead with the "Salt and Light" statement that follows them. However, as I'm sure you, my astute readers (if any of you are left, after my lengthly hiatuses and sporadic posting--sorry about that) have realised by reading the Gospel recorded above, I'm not planning to discuss the Beatitudes here. (If you want my thoughts on the Beatitudes, you can read them here, here, here, and here.)
Perhaps there's something to Pope John Paul II's lack of specifics in mind for this mystery. I mean, Jesus' preaching on the Kingdom is pretty vast territory. Not focussing us on one or another passage could be intended to prompt us, or even force us, to meditate through the entire Gospels, rather than become complacent in our meditations. There's always something new for us to learn, even in the old familiar passages. How much more when we remind ourselves that if we, ourselves, are that Kingdom, united to Christ through our baptisms, then we should always be going deeper into the totality of Jesus' teaching. I said at the beginning of this series that "we could plumb [the] depths [of the mysteries of the Rosary] for all eternity and never reach the bottom." Having such a myriad of passages from which to choose for the Third Luminous Mystery serves to truly reinforce that fact.
Nevertheless, for the sake of my purposes in this series, I did have to choose just one passage as our reference point. To my mind, Jesus' encounter with the woman who was caught in adultery, and the Scribes and Pharisees who wanted to trap Jesus, very much sums up Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom.
Jesus came into the world as the Light of God shining into the darkness of sin. Many were drawn to that Light--indeed, to an extent, everyone who experienced it was. But as the analogy goes, the sun that melts the wax also hardens the clay. The light which exposed men's sinfulness was too often rejected and hated by those who loved their own darkness too much. And most often during Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom of God, it was those who seemed already to have light that hated His Light most of all. For the True, White Light of God shows us how shadowy and grey and dingy our own light really is. God resists our pride, but gives us grace in our humility. For those of us who are willing to recognise our own darkness, He is able to fill us with His light.
The Scribes and Pharisees were such who all too often felt that their own light was plenty bright. And so these most religious of men found the greatest cause to persecute the True Light. They tried again and again to find fault, to show that His Light was just as dim and dirty as their own was revealed to be. And so, on one occasion, they brought a woman who was clearly sinful to Him, and challenged the Teacher of Mercy and Forgiveness to uphold a Law which, in their minds, was uncompromising Justice. They had forgotten, or perhaps they had never read, that "Mercy and truth have met each other; / Justice and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10).
Would Jesus ignore the woman's sin? Would He let her go? Or would He participate in stoning her as the Law commanded? Would He alienate Himself from those who had flocked to Him, recognising in Him that saving Light? Would He show Himself unfaithful to the Laws of God, Whose Son He claimed to be? Would He follow the Laws of God, thereby breaking the laws of men, so that He would be turned over to them? It seemed to the Pharisees to be the perfect trap. No matter which answer Jesus chose, they would win, and His Messiahship would be proven fraudulent!
But then Jesus did something completely different. He began writing on the ground, almost doodling disinterestedly. Many commentators spend long hours, papers, and arguments trying to decide just what Jesus was writing. The sacred author doesn't tell us. He doesn't seem entirely interested, which is itself interesting, because this is the only time in Scripture that Jesus is recorded as writing anything. My own thoughts on this question are two, and I will share both with you. The first is that I believe that Jesus was writing the Law. Particularly, I think He was listing all of the sins which resulted in a punishment of stoning or other forms of capital punishment. I think that when Jesus rose and said to them, "Whosoever is without sin may cast the first stone," His writing reminded them that, had they thrown a stone, it would have rebounded onto themselves, for they had all sinned sins deserving of death. That is my first thought, dealing with the content of the writing, and it is nothing spectacular.
My other notion has nothing to do with what Jesus wrote, but that He wrote. As I mentioned, this is the only time He is recorded as doing so, and He was not writing with pen on paper, but with His finger on the earth. I believe He is alluding to that other time that earth was engraved with a finger. There was a question about Law then, too, and at that time, the Finger settled the question, by inscribing that Law on stone tablets. Jesus' writing on the earth alludes to God's giving of the Ten Commandments. In Jesus' act of writing, He is again implying His divinity, and His Authority to both create and interpret the Law.
But just as the Law itself is unable to make one righteous, as the Pharisees had thought, neither does Jesus' writing solve the problem, but rather His grace-filled words, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," inviting introspection, self-knowledge, and honesty in His enemies. And one by one, they left. The oldest left first, and finally the youngest. Age can often bring about greater honesty. If nothing else, it certainly furnishes one with greater time for sinning. But even the stubbornness of youth was overcome by the Light of Jesus' words.
Once they left, Jesus stood back up from His brief foray into literature, and asked the unfortunate woman where her accusers were; whether there was anyone left to condemn her. She answered, "No one, my Lord." But she did not even then think she was off the hook. She knew her sinfulness. She knew her own darkness. And she knew from the Light of Jesus that He had the authority to condemn her, or to pardon her. So she waited before the Just Judge for her verdict. What overwhelming love and surprise must there have been when the Just Judge smiled on her compassionately, and said, "Neither do I condemn you." But mercy and truth had indeed met in this Man, and He firmly commanded her to "Go and sin no more." He then turned to the crowd who remained, gawking at the encounter, and summed up for them what had just happened, by telling them again, "I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life."
Too often, when faced with the immorality surrounding us in the world today, we react with a Pharisaical attitude of one or the other extreme. On the one hand, we look at homosexuality, abortion, and the host of other "hot-button issues" with disgust and condemnation, while failing to acknowledge our own hidden sins--sometimes sins that are hidden even from ourselves. In fact, we can often hide our own sinfulness with a campaign of self-righteousness. On the other hand, we can go to the opposite extreme of "compassion", seeking to justify sinful behaviour and attitudes, and even "reinterpreting" the sin so that it is not sinful, all in the name of "tolerance", "acceptance", and "not offending people".
But we must work to take Jesus Himself as our Light. He neither excused a person's sinfulness as nothing, nor did He unlovingly or self-righteously condemn those around Him. Rather, with the Kiss of Justice and Peace, He let the Light of Grace open their hearts to Him, showing them that they are always accepted by the Father if they are willing to repent and turn from their wicked ways.
We cannot compromise the Truth, but we must always speak that Truth in Love.
As we meditate on Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven for the Conversion of Sinners, let us pray that our own hearts would be more fully converted to His Gospel, so that we may truly offer that Gospel to others in grace and truth. Only then will it truly sound like "Good" News. Amen.
(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)