Scripture Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent
Reading I: Isaiah 43:16-21
Reading II: Philippians 3:8-14
GOSPEL: John 8:1-11
A Different Angle
In today’s Gospel reading, the scribes and the Pharisees try to trip Jesus up by presenting him with a problem that they believe can only be solved by turning to the law. They believe that Jesus will speak out against the law and reveal himself as a heretic. But Jesus does something they don’t expect. He comes at the dilemma from a different angle.
I have taught religious education to Catholic high school students for many years and I try to lead activities that are both fun and challenging. One evening, I presented my high school religion class with the following scenario:
There are 8 people living inside a biosphere, and they have four months to go before there will be any contact with the outside world. They have no way to communicate with anyone else, and there is no way to get out of the biosphere.
The scientist gathers the group together for an emergency meeting. While working on a nuclear experiment, the core of a mini reactor was breached. He has managed to stop the radiation leak for the moment, but within ten minutes the container holding the fifty-pound mini reactor will rapture, flooding the biosphere with lethal levels of radiation. The only safe place is the radiation-proof emergency shelter.
But there is a problem. The emergency shelter has enough food, water, and oxygen for four people to survive four months. If they all go into the shelter, they will all suffocate long before help arrives. The group has ten minutes to decide what to do.
Scientist Scientist’s pregnant wife Medical doctor Chaplain Mechanic/fix-it man Cook Journalist College student
I divided the teens into three groups and gave them each ten minutes to decide what to do. The only criterion was that they needed to fully explain whatever course of action they chose.
Many of the teens in the class had done similar things in the past. The most common being the scenario where you have too many people in the life raft, so you must decide whom to throw overboard. Exercises like these tend to be lessons on the value of human life as group members debate choices such as whether a doctor or a janitor should be saved. These situations are not only difficult, but also virtually impossible to resolve in a satisfying manner. Though there is almost always some disagreement among participants, most groups end up with a list of “survivors” and a lot to think about.
Learning from experience, the teens in my religion class began to immediately discuss who would be allowed to go into the emergency shelter. After the time was up, I had them present what they were going to do. All of them allowed the scientist’s pregnant wife to go in the shelter, two of them refused to let the scientist in, and none of them chose the chaplain or the journalist.
After they had all shared their plans, they asked if I would share my answer with them. So that’s exactly what I did.
Change the Angle
I took a piece of newsprint, taped it on the wall, and wrote a single sentence on it:
“Put the mini reactor in the emergency shelter.”
The teens just stared. They’d been so sure that the problem I had presented was, in essence, the same as ones they’d faced before, that they just dove right in. Instead of taking the time to analyze the situation and truly understand it, they simply reacted to it out of habit. And in doing so, they missed something that should have been easy to see.
That’s what Jesus did to the scribes and the Pharisees when they presented him with the woman who had been caught in adultery.
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Instead of debating the law or the facts and merits of her particular case, he simply came at the problem from a different angle. The scribes and Pharisees focused on the sin, while Jesus focused on the sinner. He changed their perspective and, in doing so, dramatically showed the extent of God’s divine mercy and love for each and every one of us.
What are your common tactics for dealing with personal problems?
When was a time that you changed your perspective to solve a problem?
What do you think the gospel implies about judging others?
Copyright 2004-2016 by Brandon Jubar
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