Opening: Most people have, at some point, made a judgment about someone based on appearance or behavior. What do you think contributes to an atmosphere where judging others is prevalent? What can you do to lessen the tendency in yourself or others?
Gospel: Read the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent through slowly a couple of times, thinking about these questions.
- What image from the Gospel story stands out for you?
- What verse or verses are important to you? Which ones invite you to further reflection?
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area,
and all the people started coming to him,
and he sat down and taught them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery
and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him,
“Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
Reflection: The Gospel readings for Lent are such rich resources with which to engage in prayerful thought and reflection. And this Sunday’s Gospel is no exception. The intrigue of the Scribes and Pharisees as they tested Jesus with their question; the self-righteousness of those ready to stone the woman; the mystery of what Jesus wrote in the sand; the confusion and fear of the woman awaiting her fate; and the crowd who watched all of this with a wide range of thoughts and feelings: all of these perspectives invite us into this Gospel reading through the use of our imagination.
This type of prayer, which James Martin, S.J., in his book Together on Retreat: Meeting Jesus in Prayer (HarperOne, 2013) refers to as “Ignatian contemplation” or “imaginative prayer”, invites us to enter into the Gospel story as completely as we can by using our imagination, which is itself a gift from God. As Father Martin makes clear, “That doesn’t mean that everything we imagine in prayer is coming from God. But it does mean that from time to time God can use our imagination as one way of communicating with us.”
In prayer, read through the Gospel slowly and picture yourself in the story. Imagine the setting: what kind of day is it, what can you see or smell around you? What about you: where are you standing? Why are you there: had you been following Jesus and waiting to hear his message? Did you come with the Scribes and Pharisees or those who intend to stone the woman caught in adultery? Are you a friend of the woman hoping to support or defend her? With your imagination simply allow the story to unfold, trusting that God will lead you through your imagination.
Once we have engaged a Gospel story through this mode of contemplation, we are able to return to hearing the story with new ears. From the vantage point of our imaginative prayer, we gain new insight into the meaning of the Gospel story for our lives, always calling us more deeply into conversion and relationship with God.
Lived faith: So, how might reflection on this week’s Gospel reading invite you to see the story in a new light? How might entering into this Gospel story help you to respond to the questions from our opening reflection: What do you think contributes to an atmosphere where judging others is prevalent? What can you do to lessen the tendency in yourself or others?
Take time during this fifth week of Lent to engage this Gospel account through imaginative prayer, recognizing that God can communicate with us in this way.