For a real conversion there is no need for long homilies on the world’s evil or the evils hidden in your life. Few words are enough for Jesus to change the direction of your steps … just one question to pierce your heart. This Gospel passage is illuminated by one simple question: “Where?” The question of every quest, every treasure hunt that kids play and we ourselves play whenever we lose something: a ring, our glasses, the direction of our life. Where? Where are you, and where are you going? To ask “where” is to enter a deeper awareness of our living.
But we all find outlines and moral answers to be much more comfortable, and that’s why we rarely ask ourselves “where,” and we always ask “what.” What did I do? What should I do? We become our best spies, in order to find at every cost a justification for our actions, or a condemnation. We hope to receive from our confessor the perfect recipe to stay well and not fall again. But these are exercises for moralists and perfectionists. Jesus doesn’t care for “what,” but he cares for “where,” since he wants to find us no matter what. He wants to re-route us, after our GPS goes crazy and brings us off-road. God asks Adam: “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) after the damage of sin. Sin relocates us, hides us, and distances us from others.
Let us be reached by the Word of God, reading it today with a special care for the “place” where it wants to bring us.
1. Jesus was preaching in the temple and many opponents aroused against him (chapter 7); in the night he goes to the Mount of Olives. We know it will be the place of his Passion, the place where his heart will be hurt and carved out by pain. Jesus anticipates his prayer in this place: it means that his Passion for men has already started.
When I think of Jesus and his presence in my life, where do I imagine him? Is he on his throne, as a judge, or in front of me as a Master? Is he close to me as a friend? In this time of prayer I want to discover truly where Jesus is now: on the Mount of Olives. He’s there praying to his Father for me, telling his Father about my life and how much he cares for me.
2. At daybreak Jesus returns to the temple: the house of God, the house of the Word of God. All the people come to him: Jesus becomes the merging point for many. The scene we are meditating happens in the temple. It is a sign that we will find here a teaching for us, a truth that is about to be revealed.
3. Also scribes and Pharisees merge to him, but they come bringing along a “prey;” the woman caught committing adultery is placed “in the middle.” What kind of place is “the middle”? It is the place of the vulnerable, the position of the accused, the one who is already lost in the trap of other people’s opinion. How little a prudence we show in putting ourselves in the trap of many social-networks that overexpose our inner self and our choices! “In the middle” there is no protection, no defense. We are under a crossfire of accusations where surviving is impossible.
Where am I? What is making me feel “in the middle?” Do I perceive accusations or pressure around me? Or are my own thoughts and regrets those voices of accusation? It is very important for me to discern these voices and to be able to see how Jesus intervenes.
4. The “big thing” that the Pharisees show and talk about is the sin they just discovered. Where is their look fixed upon? And where is my look fixed upon? Where I look at myself and others, what do I see? What catches my attention? Good qualities and possibilities, or rather defects and weaknesses? Where do I look?
5. Law: the magical word. The Word of God given to Moses has been used to condemn the woman, trying to restore order and justice; maybe trying also to defend God himself from the offenses of sinners. What if it is also an attempt to defend ourselves and affirm our own justice? In condemning the sinner, I proclaim my innocence. In this way Law becomes a shield for me; I follow the rules, so I am just. Law is the armor that protects me from an excess of life, mercy and love — the excess that Pharisees had started seeing in Jesus. Mercy threatens those who consider themselves right and capable of observing Law through their own strength. So, where are these people, truly? Are they in front of the Word of God with a free heart, or rather in front of the mirror of their own justice?
How’s my attitude in front of the Word of God? Am I simple enough to lean my ear on Jesus’ heart, to listen to his voice, or rather do have I the pretense of knowing already everything and use the Word just to reassure myself to be right?
6. The evangelist himself answers our questions, clarifying the Pharisees’ intentions; in accusing the woman, they wanted to accuse Jesus. They use God to accuse God. They use justice to accuse the only just man. They are prisoners of a terrifying idea, which brings them to judge the world and even God!
But Jesus writes on the ground. With a mysterious gesture, he obliges them to a pause of silence. Silence — how often we drown it with comments, gossip, debates. Jesus leaves us speechless, and makes us bow, taking our look away from our brother’s sin, looking instead at the dust we all are made of.
7. Since the Pharisees insist with their false questions, here comes the only true answer; the one that breaks down the armor they made for themselves. This is an answer that hits their presumed justice, and it hides an uncomfortable question. Who among you is guiltless?
True humility is what we experience not in front of others’ accusations, or ourselves, but in front of the face of Jesus when we admit that we don’t resemble him much.
8. Jesus continues writing. This is the only time in the Gospels in which he writes. After having engraved the words of the Law with his own fingers, God continues writing. He has not finished speaking yet. Law is not accomplished yet. Law is not to be followed as a dead thing, but requires to be loved and lived. And its full accomplishment is love. Jesus continues writing. He writes the story of God’s love, of his passion for mankind, and first of all for every man and women who are made to stand “in the middle” by injustice and violence.
9. They went away one by one. The accusers change places. Maybe something changed also inside them. Maybe for some of them this quick replacement can become the beginning of a new path. Jesus, instead, stays there. He is not afraid. He has nothing to defend. He has somebody to encounter.
10. It is a real encounter. Jesus straightens up to look into the woman’s eyes as a woman, not as a sinner. It is as if he wants to say, “Before what you did, I want to remind you who you are and where you are; in front of the gaze of God himself, the God who made the heavens and the Law. Your heart is here and has eyes only for you.”
The big question “where are they?” means, where are those who suppose themselves to be right? Where has their justice gone? It disappeared, because it was a thing of man. Where are their accusations, and your sense of failure, and the voices of anger? In front of me, they fade away as ghosts. I want you to realize where you truly are and what really matters.
11. What really matters is that God does not condemn. He tells her this, “Neither do I condemn you,” even before your repentance. The woman does not recite any act of contrition. She is saved by a look, a presence stronger than any other. “I am the God who looks at you and absolves you, the God who frees you, because I care for your life and your future more than I care for your past sins.” This encounter moves the woman to another place. Where is your dwelling place? Your life is born out of love and it is surrounded by love. This gaze holds you entirely, with your sin (“from this moment sin no more”), but bound in hope. Jesus writes: He writes on the woman’s heart, and he’s writing a new beginning.
We can live the same encounter in the sacrament of reconciliation. Jesus asks us the same question: where are you living? — because he loves us and he wants to reach us. Where are you? Maybe, like the Pharisees, we are living under the armor of the Law where we protect ourselves and judge others. Maybe we are standing “in the middle,” hit by our own accusations, sense of guilt, regret, sense of failure and anger. Jesus makes all these voices faint away as he looks directly in our eyes. We are not “in the middle” anymore, but alone, in front of him. And he starts writing, also for us, a beautiful life story: loved, and full of future.
When the question “where?” is often connected with a desire for holiday, look for a restoring place also for your spirit. Assure your soul a daily appointment in front of Jesus’ gaze; a gaze full of care, truth, love. Try to encourage a person close to you to take this “spiritual holiday,” inviting him or her to a simple prayer time. Maybe you could read this meditation together.