One of the wonderful things about film is that we get to see things that we might otherwise miss from just reading the book. This is a bit of backwards thinking because we often think the book is better. When we’re talking about films that attempt to interpret Scared Scripture, we need to be careful of course to realize that the film is not inspired or infallible, but we can still glean interesting insights.
When watching The Passion of the Christ I noticed something in a way that I hadn’t before. In the story typically titled The Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8:2-11), we are told that Jesus saves the woman from stoning by forcing the members of the crowd to reflect on their own sinfulness. In the movie you see the crowd throw their stones to the ground, one by one – following the scriptures declaration that they left eldest to youngest.
I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I saw things from their side, from the side of the accusers. Jesus said in v.9 “But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.”
Jesus was in the middle of teaching when the scribes and Pharisees approached him with the woman (generally believed to be Mary Magdalene) and started questioning Jesus. It is not entirely clear how many were ready to join in the stoning; was it just the scribes and Pharisees or did the crowd He was teaching join in, or did they just looked on wondering which side would prevail.
They went away…
when they faced the challenge posed by Jesus’ words – and perhaps whatever he was writing in the sand – they immediately responded to His teaching and left. There was no debate, no argument, they just threw down their rocks and left. They knew they were beat, they knew they had heard the truth and had no comeback, no way of countering what Jesus has said to them. Here’s the important detail: this required that they recognized in themselves their own sinfulness.
This is no small detail. We’re not talking about ordinary everyday Jews here. These are the scribes and Pharisee’s, some of the most educated people around. They knew Sacred Scripture backwards and forwards. They lived the Torah and endlessly debated what it meant and how best to live it out and they ferosciously policed others behaviours.
One by one…
this realization did not perhaps strike them all at once. In a patriarchal culture like Judaism, they would have looked to the leader of the pack to make the first move.
beginning with the older ones…
and so they looked to the older one’s, the elders, to make the first move. The older one’s who had been studying the Law longer than anyone and should know of a loophole if there was one. If these guys don’t know how to counter the words of Jesus, the younger one’s certainly couldn’t. Even if the younger one’s could, it’s doubtful they would have challenged the authority of the older ones.
and Jesus was left alone
When all the crowd had left, Jesus was left alone with the woman. He affirmed her of His love for her and admonished her to “sin no more”.
The lesson for me… (and maybe you)
We often hear the Pharisee’s and scribes portrayed as arrogant, self important people and indeed they were that. At their hearts though they loved God. The problem is that they got wrapped up in their own status and their own righteousness (Luke 18:11-12) and they got lost in the details and minutia of the law (John 5:39).
The lesson for us: the hypocrites in the church think they love God and that has to be our starting point. Rebuking them for their attitude but acknowledging what it is they are looking for. At one point they were genuinely searching for God and somehow stalled and got stuck in some unholy rut. It is our role to hold them accountable in the true love of Christ, while acknowledging our own sinfulness.
Sacred Scripture assures us that not everyone who calls Him “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). In eschatological terms, in contrast to the number of professing Christian today, Jesus will be left alone in the Kingdom of God. Calling on His name is not a magic formula or an incantation, there has to be true desire for God and true repentance for sins behind it. Matthew 7:21 concludes saying that “only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven [will enter the Kingdom].
The Pharisee’s were not doing the will of the Father, but the sad thing, is that they earnestly thought they were. They were zealous and passionate (think: Saul/St. Paul) for the Lord, but lost their way. Never take your salvation for granted. Even if you hold to “once save always saved”, arrogance is not a good sign. Pray continuously that you might be reminded of the Opus Dei – the work of God – and that you might be strengthened to persevere until His return.