Sticks & stones vs. Christ’s love

I hate stones! I have hated stones since my youth; it’s all part of my personal history.

On the vast prairies of North Dakota where I grew up there remains abundant evidence of the age of the prehistoric glaciers, left over fragments, large and small jutting out of the rich earth. These needed to be removed by hand before spring planting could begin. My first task each spring, therefore, was to proceed to the fields, bend the back and lift these boulders on to a low, horse-drawn sled called a “stone boat,” and haul them to the nearest fence corner where doubtless they still lie today overgrown by weeds. Can you begin to see now why I am still irritated by those lifeless objects? I wore out countless pairs of my canvass gloves, bruised my hands and burdened my young aching back.

Of course, you may continue to wonder why I should be burdening you and myself over a personal grievance in a pastoral reflection. For two reasons: first because stones have been an integral part of planetary existence since Neolithic times, the late stone age, when stone fragments were used as household grinding implements, weapons of attack, articles of defense or punishment. In short, for millennia stones have served, whether for good or ill, as a means of survival or instruments of vengeance.

Secondly, I raise this issue because we find a heart-rending story in the Gospel of Saint John on this fifth Sunday of Lent concerning a woman who had been apprehended in the act of adultery. (Interestingly, her partner is not cited!) The Law of Moses prescribed stoning for such an act.

As you read this account in Saint John’s Gospel, however, you will find that Jesus enters the picture offering an alternative solution. He asked the bystanders if there were any among them who had not trespassed the Law of Moses. Total silence! Jesus then forgives the woman and tells her to sin no more. He then asks her if there are still assailants standing about, ready to hurl stones in the Law’s defense. “None” she says. “Alright, neither do I accuse you.”

So, we have here a clear example of the power of Christ’s forgiveness and compassion over the power of brute force.

We now know the facts of this event. Let it be said, however, that the hurling of stones can also have metaphorical implications. In the “enlightened” age in which we live, I would like to believe that we are beyond throwing rocks. Interestingly, however, we often find other, more “domesticated” means to stone one another: the stinging remark, for instance, the clever retort, the curt response, the hurtful phrase, the little “digs” that we use to make our point.

Of course, most us still remember the old axiom: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.” That saying is only half true of course; it could be better said: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will break my heart.”

All of this boils down to one word: judgment. From whom do we receive the right to judge others? Are we such perfect law-keepers that we are allowed to find fault only in others? Surely there must be better ways to describe us: tolerant, compassionate, forgiving, respectful, non-judgmental. Indeed, who are we to judge?

Scriptures for Mar. 13

Isaiah 43: 16-21

Philippians 3: 8-14

John 8: 1-11

The writer formerly served the Anchorage Archdiocese as director of pastoral education. He now lives in Notre Dame, Indiana.

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