|By Fr. Brendan McGuire
Pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, San Jose and Vicar General for special projects, Diocese of San Jose. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fifth Sunday of Lent – March 13, 2016
In her book, Willful Blindness Margaret Heffernan maintains1 that all of us are biased in some way, that we can never perceive things completely unbiased. She maintains the most biased of all are those who believe we have no bias because we are blind to our own bias. She posits that people who are most unaware of their bias are probably leaning towards prejudice because their bias has even biased their ability to see their own bias.
Scriptures would say, “He who thinks he is a fool is not such a fool; he who thinks he is not a fool is the greatest fool of all.” It is the same language used differently. The challenge is that in the midst of our own bias how do we know our own bias? It is called a moment of reflection, a pause. If we pause and think for a moment just before we speak, we will catch ourselves before we say something in which our bias becomes public to everyone else.
For example, if somebody does something that we disagree with, we judge them quickly and we become angry. We have no idea if our anger is righteous or not; we have no idea if our blindness is willful. We have not thought about it long enough. It could be righteous anger or it might be anger from bias or prejudice.
In today’s Gospel we hear how the angry crowd, led by the Pharisees and the Scribes, come to Jesus saying, “Look we’ve caught her in the very act of adultery; we want to stone her.” Jesus does not say anything in response to their question. Can you imagine how angry they would have been to receive that silence? The Pharisees and the religious leaders were bowing publicly to the opinion of this would-be leader called Jesus and he simply bends down and starts writing on the ground in silence.
For years, plenty of scholars have wondered what he was writing on the ground but we do not know. We know one thing–he paused. He forced them to think about what it was they were asking from him. In that moment of reflection Jesus is hoping that they would learn how biased and prejudiced they themselves were.
Jesus who is the Son of God, could see into the hearts of every single one of them and he knew their sins; he knew there was not one in the entire crowd who was without sin. Yet he wanted them to come to realize that for themselves.
Jesus responds, “He who is without sin throw the first stone.” The wisest among them, the elders, realize they are not without sin and they walk away readily. Then Jesus sets the woman free and says to her, “Go and sin no more.”
Lent is a time for all of us to pause, not to examine other people’s lives, but our own lives; to see where have we made mistakes; where have we gone wrong. May we put down our stones of judgment and repent.
(Endnotes) 1 Margaret Hefferman, Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril (2011: Walker & Co.)