“In response they went away one-by-one, beginning with the Elders” . . ., “Beginning with the Elders.”
This line, “beginning with the elders”, seems to be a throwaway line added for no real purpose except to give some detail to the scene. But this seemingly unimportant line is very important to our understanding of the story. In fact, it is a crucial part of the story.
Let us picture this scene in our minds and look at the characters involved.
It is a quiet mid-morning, not yet too hot to keep people indoors. We find Jesus – sitting in the Temple area speaking with the people – instructing them.
There is crowd gathered around him listening – men, boys, young, old – some casual passersby, others intently listening to Jesus’ every word. There too are those who are spying on Jesus – watching him for their masters - who wish to find something for which they can discredit Jesus.
Suddenly there is a commotion – shouting, jeering and a crowd of men enters into the Temple area before Jesus, roughly dragging a woman. Jesus recognizes them as elders of the temple, leaders in the community – men of influence and learning - along with their underlings – students and scribes –
NOTE: None in this crowd were among the listeners of Jesus. They are accompanied by a mixed group of hangers-on – people who joined the procession, attracted by the noise and excitement - curious to see what was going on.
When they come before Jesus, a buzz goes around the crowd informing all who are present along with the new arrivals that a confrontation is going to take place – maybe a fight – better yet – a stoning! This woman is an adulteress and, “stoning is how we deal with the likes of her!”
What excitement for the people – a diversion from the everyday humdrum struggle of living.
The crowd is made up of shop keepers, merchants, shoppers, temple visitors, beggars, idlers, street urchins and travelers – a cross section of the everyday population of Jerusalem.
The elders confront Jesus and ask him – to trap him with his own words - into either denying the Law of Moses or betraying his own teachings of God’s love and mercy.
And what does Jesus do? In silence he stoops down and writes in the dust.
It is left to our imagination what Jesus writes. But what ever it is, it catches everyone’s attention. All assembled are mesmerized by his reaction and a heavy silence overtakes the crowd.
The elders again demand Jesus answer their question. Again in silence he looks around the crowd. Finally, he says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And again he stoops down to write in the dust, in silence.
“And in response, they went away, one-by-one, beginning with the elders.”
The elders looked to trap Jesus with his own words and he defeats their wickedness with his silence.
In Jewish tradition it is the elders who cast the first stones of punishment. As the leaders of the community, it is up to them to make the determination of guilt and to begin the punishment for breaking the law after which the rest of the crowd present can join in by throwing their own stones at the sinner. The elders are the most wise, the most learned. The people in the crowd have little or no education and are not schooled in the Laws of Moses. The people look to the elders – relying on their leadership and guidance; to set the pace and tone for all the people to follow.
How have we changed in 2000 years?
Who are our elders, - our leaders - today? Who are ones, we look to for leadership and guidance? Who do we look up to - to set the pace for the rest of us to follow: politicians – sports figures – entertainers – corporate moguls - teachers - parents?
And what examples do they set for the people to follow?
As Christians and as Catholics - do we not look to Jesus for guidance? Is He not our Elder – our Leader - and our example - for living in peace and love with all our brothers and sisters?
Whether we are at work, at school, during sports events, participating in civic organizations, and especially while at home – do we not live a Christ teaches - setting good example for others to follow, - especially our young people.
Jesus’ message of love and mercy is for us all. He knows that we are each sinners, who desire mercy, forgiveness and love, - not punishment, ridicule and banishment. He is our Way our Truth and our Life – our example of true Servant Leadership. He knows what is in our hearts. He is our Elder – our Leader and our guide: teaching us - not to sit in judgment, - but to love one another as He loves us.
Deaon Don Ron