Last night, Dominican Study Group had another session with Doc and Steve and their Facing History and Ourselves Workshop, and again the discussion was invigorating. It always is.
Tonight, we worked on forgiveness, mercy, reconciliation, restorative justice, and what all those ideals entail. We began by reading John 8: 1-11. Then we paired up and discussed the story with a partner, followed by a general discussion.
Zephus and I thought John 8: 1-11 too unrealistic to be true. I recalled children coming to me and telling me "Sonny stole your cigarettes and is smoking them behind the garage..." No way telling them to forgive him because they sin too, would satisfy them. As adults when people come to you with tales of wrongdoing...would they be satisfied with reminding them of their own wrongdoing. Also, pharisees et al were use to arguing, no way would they let Jesus off the hook with a diversion technique. They would have held His feet to the fire: "We're not talking about our sins. We're talking about this women caught in sin!"
So, if the story isn't true, what is it's purpose? That's obvious. It's very theme is carried throughout the New Testament. It was written as an example of Jesus' new Law. Love trumps retribution: forgiveness not Mosaic Law.
What do we learn from John 8:1-11? The obvious observation is that they only have one perpetrator of the crime. Where's the man? It is this omission that told Zeph and me why the crowd dispersed as they did. This was a trick. The pharisees set this woman up, therefore they were accessories to the crime, which makes them even more guilty than the woman. The Old Testament tells us to punish both adulterers Deut. 22:22.
This was a set up and Jesus knew it. What Jesus wrote in the sand isn't important. Most of the crowd couldn't read. Maybe he wrote Jewish law that condemned duplicity and the Pharisees could read it. Maybe Jesus just doodled letting the situation settle in the crowd's minds. Whatever was drawn on the ground wasn't as important as what Jesus said: "Whoever among you is without sin!!!!!!! This is directed to the Pharisees and those who were trying to set Jesus up. They in conniving this situation were worst sinners than the woman.
Let those who were in the planning of this "set up" cast the first stone. Yikes, not even the Pharisees would throw a stone because they in their sin would likewise be calling for prosecution and condemnation for their part in this ruse. When the Pharisees realized the implications of what Jesus was saying, and he gave them time to meditate on it by doodling in the sand. They had no defense. They had to turn away. They walked away.
Without leaders, the crowd gradually dispersed.
The entire New Testament is an elaboration of John 8: 1-11.
In the general discussion I learned that Jesus gave the woman divine forgiveness. She didn't ask for forgiveness, verbally. She acknowledged him as "Lord." He, Himself, the Son of God will pay the penalty for her sins (and ours). She is us; we sin. We are caught by God's justice, we deserve death but Jesus has delivered us.
Doc then showed us a DVD, "Facing the Truth," by Bill Moyers. We saw some of the testimonies of the victims of apartheid in South Africa. They were testifying before Archbishop Tutu and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Need I tell you that their stories were tales of the worst of the human capacity for evil. The depth of the depravity was/is shocking/overwhelming. How do you heal from that? How can one forgive? How do you move on? But that was exactly the purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And for the most part, they succeeded. It had to be tried and for that alone, it was a success.
The injustice and depravity and evil had to be confronted. Plunging into the would of hurt AND ALSO "guilt," had to addressed. What was the alternative--pretending that the past hadn't happened? That would have been a festering wound.
The Archdiocese of Boston should take a lesson from this. Still reeling from "Sex Scandals and Abuse of Power," it is perceived that our Cardinal Archbishop is in the "abortion business". But this is not about the joining of the Caritas Christi Health Care System to the Centene Corporation (provides abortion, and sterilization procedures).
Sorry to digress. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Tutu made sure the past was heard, acknowledged, and then reverenced by the nation. It was a nation that collectively grieved. A necessary process, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross would say.
Forgiveness begins with facing the truth, not about forgetting. You can't forget. You forgive in spite of the wrong. Does reconciliation follow? That's the hope. At least, forgiveness is an element of reconciliation.
For we Catholics, forgiveness is a belief. Sin separates us from God and Absolution brings us back to Him.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.