“Let the one among you who is without sin, cast the first stone,” our brother Jesus proclaimed to the gathered crowd in today’s gospel. The Priests for Equality addition of the Scriptures that we use here at All Are One lifts up the obvious right away with the statement, “A couple had been caught in the act of adultery.” This, as I said, is an obvious fact, that it took two for this deed to happen, but all other versions of this story conveniently leave this vital piece of information out. We might ask how and why this happens.
The society in which Jesus lived didn’t consider women on a par with men—in fact, women only had any status if they were connected to a man in some way—i.e., as a daughter or a wife. If they were so unfortunate to not have these relationships; they basically found themselves on the street to fend in whatever way that they could.
Jesus was aware of this injustice where women were concerned and thus his statement that those “without sin might cast the first stone” to punish the woman, was ever more powerful. The penalty for this “crime” for the woman was stoning till death—we know of no such penalty for the man involved. No doubt Jesus could see into the hearts of the men who brought her before him, knowing their true intention was to bring him down, rather than having any true concern for what this woman did or didn’t do.
As we look back to this time in human history; we might be prone to make a judgment on these men who were abusing this woman in order to bring down the work of our brother, Jesus. But in our present day, is life any better for women?
Are we not still attempting in this country to elect a woman to the highest office in this country? Are we not still waiting for our Catholic church to ordain women licitly to the priesthood? Both these examples stem from a society that has tiers/layers of importance—men as best with women coming in second.
And the real sin is that of male privilege and it has been going on for so long, that it has become part of our lives to the point that many still do not even see it. A current example that points this up so clearly is that of Joe Biden who has recently been called to task by four women for his “habit” of “uncomfortable (to women) touching.” In his mind, as he has said, it is his way of “reaching out,” of giving support and he meant nothing inappropriate by it. He was able to cultivate his “habit” until now because of male privilege that somehow makes his actions toward women something that he alone determines without input from them. With the “MeToo” Movement, all this has changed.
To his credit, he says, “He now gets it,” while his accusers say, “He should have gotten it much sooner!” When one part of society is not considered, as good as, those in the position of power can say how it is going to be, and not only that, but the group in power come to expect the privilege.
Another current example of this “power over” is that of white privilege and it comes from a group of women religious, representing many different orders of sisters who got together to tackle the issue of racism. One of the presenters, a black, religious woman, Sister Patricia Chappell, stated in no uncertain terms that there would be some “ouch moments” in their time together. She was joined in the presentation by a white woman religious, Sister Anne Louise Nadeau.
The first “ouch” moment came very quickly when Sister Patricia asked the group of nearly all white women religious where the black sisters were. She said that half of the women in this room should be black. Sister Patricia walked back through the history of religious women calling their attention to times when white women would not sleep in a bed that a black woman had slept in even while they were preaching a mission of love. Being denied access to religious communities in the past has left black people with a feeling of not being good enough or competent enough and those feelings take a long time to heal. And black women are dealt a double blow—first, that of being a woman compounded by being black.
Sister Patricia went on to talk about white privilege, that insidious condition that gives whites a hand up in life that black people have to fight to obtain, just because of the way they happened to have born. I know personally that I never had to have the talk with my son that every black mother has to have with her sons about the fact that a young black male is suspect just by nature of the color of his skin. That’s white privilege!
Both sisters, black and white spoke about how communities need to be more inclusive, name the sin of white privilege, listen to others and then listen some more. It doesn’t matter how I, as a white woman look at a situation, alone, but how what I take for granted is received by the other who doesn’t live with the privilege. With regard to male privilege, it doesn’t matter how a man looks at a situation, alone, he has to know and understand how his action is taken by women.
The dual sins of racism and sexism have been with us so long that sometimes we wonder what, in fact, we can do! Our readings for this 5th Sunday of Lent are very instructive in that regard.
First of all, Isaiah lets the people of his time know that indeed God “opens a way” for us. That God “is doing something new” and is there walking with us to help us to do that “new thing” that will include people, make them feel welcomed, show them that they don’t stand alone. This of course assumes that we are in regular contact with God, that power that watches over all of life. For myself; I find it much more convicting to read Jesus’ words, “watch” as it were, his actions and then attempt to do the same.
So much of this is simply being aware. For those of us who are white, middle class, it is realizing that all of the world doesn’t live with the privilege that we do. Julia Walsh, a young writer for the National Catholic Reporter has this to say about white privilege:
Whether I like it or not; I participate in the evil of racism every time I enjoy my white privilege. When I feel the tinge of excitement over seeing a “run-down” neighborhood flipped into an area with funky shops and remodeled homes (that’s what gentrification is), I’m ignoring the plight of the poor. When I savor easy access to healthy food and transportation without anger for the lack of attainability my black and brown sisters and brothers have of such basics, I’m failing to love. And when I experience nothing but respect and kindness from police officers and assume it’s everyone’s experience, I’m turning away from the truth.
In both the 1st and the 2nd readings for today; we get the clear message from Isaiah and Paul that basically the past is the past—we can’t change what we did or didn’t do then, but we do have control of what we do in the future!
Jesus has come and shown us the way—he always had the time for those on the margins and we must too! Julia Walsh says it like this and I share her thoughts today as perhaps good ones to ponder in our journey these last two weeks of Lent as we move ever closer toward Easter.
There is a major cost for shrinking from naming evil. Evil creeps through every society and crawls into the hollows of our hearts, where our deepest fears lie dormant. Evil crawls into the places where we hold our dreams and desires, clings to pride and comforts and subtly shifts our understandings, gets us to justify our destructive behaviors . If we see how evil lurks, ready to convince us of lies, then we might be able to name it, confront it in ourselves, each other. If we name the evil, then we can have power over it; we can change.
Friends, I began this homily with Jesus’ words about who can throw a stone at another and we all realize that none of us can, because none of us is without sin. What we can try and do is walk through life with a big and merciful heart, expecting the best from others and giving the benefit of the doubt when others don’t give their best, knowing that we will need that same mercy from time to time. We can more often try to see a situation from another’s point of view—realizing that we may not know the whole story with which that person walks. We never have to agree with an action that causes others pain, but we do have to try and find a place in our hearts for the offender, as Jesus did. With regard to the woman today in the gospel—Jesus showed her mercy, but he also said, “Do better next time! Amen? Amen!