Fifth Sunday of Lent: Let You Without Sin Throw the First Stone

BY KRISANNE VAILLANCOURT MURPHY | April 3, 2022
Sunday’s Readings
Reflexión en Español

When I first met Syl & Vicki Schieber, they shared the story of their daughter Shannon’s murder nearly 25 years ago in her grad school apartment in Philadelphia. Shannon and I would be the same age today, had her life not been cut short by this terrible crime. In fact, just this month, the amount of time since Shannon’s death surpassed the time she was alive.

The Schiebers have been sharing their story for decades now. For them, honoring Shannon has always been tied to seeking an end to the death penalty—they opposed it for their daughter’s killer, they advocated for its abolition in their home state of Maryland, and have continued to do so in states beyond.

Let You Without Sin Throw the First Stone

The Schiebers have a remarkable faith; one born of unimaginable suffering and testing. And when asked where they find strength to oppose the death penalty, they point to today’s Gospel story in John—often called The Passage of the Woman Caught in Adultery.

The Schiebers told me, “On the death penalty, Christ’s teaching is clear. If we lived in Jesus’ time, we’d know this is the scene of an execution about to take place. Yet Jesus does not question the charges or evidence or even the guilt of the woman. Instead, Jesus stood up to confront the execution and said, ‘Let you without sin throw the first stone.’”

In reading this story in John, I have always recognized that Jesus’ response to the woman was radical for his time. But the enormity of this teaching inflamed my heart when hearing it retold by my friends who have lost so much.

There are many ways the Schiebers might have responded to the devastating murder of their child. Yet, in opposing the death penalty for her killer, they chose to respond in a restorative way. Much like Jesus’ approach in this story, they took courageous steps in the spirit of reconciliation to ensure that their pain would not result in more suffering. Instead of vengeance, they chose the more life-giving path.

In this Gospel story, Jesus did something unexpected and surprising. He found a way to bring forth life; to not inflict more death.

I am grateful for this reading today and the blessing of contemporary disciples—like the Schiebers—who have chosen to “harden not their hearts,” in order to continue modeling Jesus’ reconciling way.

For Reflection:

  • In this Lenten journey, where do you find in your life “scenes of death” that await a creative, life-giving response?
  • How have you suffered or been tested in your faith?
  • Where are you called to be a reconciler—whether in your family, Church, or community?

5 replies
  1. Dr Eileen Quinn Knight
    Dr Eileen Quinn Knight says:

    The author asks us how we have been tested in our faith. It is a question that has many avenues. I am rejected when I want mercy for individuals or a group of people who have been treated unjustly. For example, the plight of the migrants is an unfortunate and unhealthy stance as a people of faith. We need to have that unbridled mercy and forgiveness for all who suffer. I persistently show my care by prayer and some good works. As we are all immigrants at some time or the other, we need to bring God’s mercy to all who suffer. What I want and what happens in this society is difficult to understand. Bringing mercy and goodness to others is the story of the Gospel, the story of our Pope and the story of many believers. We need to infect all believers with the goodness of God’s mercy and love. May the Holy Spirit bring our society to an understanding of how to move forward in the best, merciful and kind manner.

    Reply
  2. sonja
    sonja says:

    It never ceases to amaze me that the prevalent belief towards those in prison, is that all can be redeemed, except sex offenders. Sex offenders must be punished for ever. They can never be let out of prison. And yet listening to sex offenders who never went to prison, the only thing that transformed their lives is unconditional love. They too were once victims of abuse, and only after being given the opportunity to heal from their own abuse and pain, can they begin to change their lives and be transformed into new people.

    Reply

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