Summary: Gossip has no place in our hearts or our mouths.
Fifth Sunday of Lent - Year C
March 25th, 2007
* Is. 43:16-21
* Phil. 3:8-14
* Jn. 8:1-11
Harriet and George
Here’s a little story for you. In a small town, a person named Harriet loved to gossip and kept sticking her nose into other people’s business. One day she noticed that George’s pickup truck was parked all afternoon in front of the town’s only bar. She expressed her thought to George and others that everyone seeing it there would know that George was an alcoholic.
George, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and then just walked away. He said nothing. Later that evening, George quietly parked his pickup in front of Harriet’s house and left it there all night... (Pulpit Helps, April 2003)
Nothing good ever comes from gossip. And even though we can joke about it, gossip can have deadly consequences. Whenever we damage the reputation of another person, we must be held accountable for what happens to that person as a result.
There is a good example in today’s Gospel. The scribes and Pharisees, who were the so-called religious professionals of their time, had no real interest in the woman who was caught in adultery. While acting very indignant that a law had been broken, they actually seemed to take far more pleasure in the fact that the woman was caught. This gave them the chance to parade their righteousness and moral superiority.
Acting like a self-righteous moral authority is always a very dangerous stance. It easily blinds us to others because we then see the other on a lower level than ourselves. When we put on the robe of superiority, we separate ourselves from others. This is probably a greater sin than adultery, judging from Jesus’ reaction.
The Pharisees showed absolutely no interest in the woman as a person. They seemed like grade school "tattle-tales" who just want to get someone in trouble. They ignored the whole person, and focused only on her sin. The Pharisees missed seeing her beauty, her struggles, her possibilities. In their rush to condemn her act, they dismissed everything else about her life and her personhood-as the saying goes, "I’ve made up my mind--Don’t confuse me with the facts!"
Our modern day equivalent can be found in those tabloid newspapers you see as you’re waiting in the grocery store check-out line. Someone has referred to these as "scandal sheets." The reporters for these magazines simply love it when they can dig up even the slightest hint that someone else has been up to something shameful. And if they can get a picture catching the person in the shameful act, well that’s definitely a bonus, isn’t it?
When we consider the millions of copies of "scandal sheets" sold every year, it seems that many of us have an unhealthy interest in the weaknesses and sins of other people. There is some kind of twisted pleasure we get from knowing that others have failed; we even consider it a form of entertainment. Late night comedians on television love to make fun of those in the public eye. And when they do, it’s always with an air of superiority and scorn. Meanwhile, their audiences roar with laughter and approval.
Sad to say, but ordinary, everyday gossip is actually the way that many of us resemble the scribes and Pharisees. And when we’re telling our stories on other people, don’t we often do it with a laugh or in a rudely joking manner? Gossip has no place in a Christian’s heart or conversations, because it is clearly a lie. When we gossip we subtly imply, "I am on a higher level-I would never do that!-I may have my faults, but at least I am not as bad as that person!" This attempt of one person to claim higher moral ground than another is always a lie. The truth is that all creation is groaning and waiting for fullness of forgiveness, for love and redemption.
Everyone is wounded from sin, hurting, and crying out for healing. Henri Nouwen has called us "wounded healers": Christians do not point fingers to reject and isolate other sinners. We are a community of wounded people hoping in God’s promises together, healing each others’ wounds together.
Jesus made this very clear with his unconditional compassion for the woman. First, he reflected quietly and refused to join their mob-scene of condemnation. Then he did a shocking thing: he leveled the playing field. He called them on their arrogance by revealing to all present the Pharisee’s own sinful woundedness: Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.
Only silence followed.
Could this silence find a place in our lives this week?