Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ

I am fascinated with bridges, especially the engineering masterpiece which is the 55 Km-long Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. These days, when I pass by the construction of the new bridge to Taipa, I try to get a glimpse at how these marvelous structures are built.

Two major forces act on a bridge at any given time: compression and tension. Compression pushes and shortens the object it is acting on. At the same time, tension acts to expand or lengthen it. The balancing of these two forces keeps the bridge both stable and flexible enough to withstand the elements of nature and the passage of people with their loads.

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Jn 8:1-11), various forces are at work in the person of Jesus. The Scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery to Jesus, a crime punishable with stoning according to the Law of Moses. How would He judge her?

Jesus surely felt the weight of the Law of Moses with its precision and inevitability, something He could not superficially dismiss. But then, He also felt the overwhelming pull of compassion for this poor woman, so resigned to her fate that she was not even trying to plead for mercy or ask for kinder justice (why wasn’t the man who sinned with her on trial too?). Jesus might have recalled what God said to the Prophet Ezekiel: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live” (Ez 33:11). Have you ever experienced these push-and-pull forces when faced with a tough decision? They are truly hard to bear.

During this discernment, Jesus balanced them with a symbolic gesture: “He bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground” (Jn 8:6). Being in the Temple, the ground was made of stone. The analogy with the story of Yahweh giving the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai is compelling: “God gave Moses the two tablets of the covenant, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God” (Ex 31:18). St. Augustine commented that “God wrote on the tablets of the Law what men did not read in their own hearts”, referring to the fact that the natural law expressed in the Ten Commandments is already engraved in the conscience of every person. If we honestly listened to our heart, we could recognize this law. Unfortunately, humanity is either morally blinded or without strength to thoroughly put this law into practice. As a consequence, the Old Testament legalistic mentality crushed people under the weight of the Law, which could not save them. This mentality oversimplified God’s will (which needs discernment) into easier human precepts. The effect was devastating, because a deep sense of guilt and fear alienated people from God. Jesus’ mission was to bridge this immense distance.

Writing also needs a balance of pressure and tension, of weight and movement. By using   His finger to trace His words, Jesus added to the weight of God’s Law, which must be upheld, the dynamic movement of Mercy, the only force which can orient us towards God.

 “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (v.7), Jesus said to the Scribes and the Pharisees, inviting the accusers to recognize that they too were in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. In the prayer we are reciting these days to end the war in Ukraine, we rightly invoke: “Forgive us for war, O Lord”. Yes, as a human family, we are all connected and therefore responsible for the evil which has roots that run deep within ourselves. This humility, which is the inner awareness of our common fragility, is necessary to judge events in truth and justice.

When Jesus told the woman “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (v.11), the Law was not simply abrogated (It is written in the human hearts!). Instead, it was given back to the woman, no more as an unbearable burden, but as a covenant of love and mercy which would allow her to start her life afresh by reconnecting with a loving God. A covenant which was truly life-giving vis-à-vis her past destructive behavior.

The New Covenant Jesus began writing on the floor of the Temple will definitely be sealed with His Blood on the Cross. All of us, in that moment, were forgiven just as the adulterous woman was. On the Cross, Jesus will bear on His body, offered for us, the pressure and tension caused by Law and Punishment, Mercy and Salvation, finally becoming the only bridge between God and humanity.

Christ’s New Covenant is the invitation to live in gratitude for the mercy we have received, all of us. When we are torn by conflicting forces when facing hard decisions, let us remember this mercy. Like Him, let us keep Law and Mercy together in the dynamic balance of the cross we all bear, but out of love, not out of fear. Not only might we see truth more clearly, but we might also become bridges that lead others to God. (Photo: RoAll at Pixabay)