(Editor's Note: I was so moved by the words of this priest, in particularly the last two paragraphs. Excellent writing to keep the most poignant and powerful point at the end. The author cites a woman theologian whom I actually had the privilege to hear speak at a panel as part of Religious Sisters Week. It was SO refreshing to hear woman leaders in the Church who are incredibly intelligent and challenge the status quo, especially when 10 out of 10 times they're challenging their superiors [men].
Nonetheless, this reflection challenges toxic masculinity in the most honest and humble way - by fixing the comparison on Jesus. I hope you enjoy as much as I did.)
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Today’s Gospel is often called, “The Woman Caught in Adultery.” Yet, a line now leaps out for me: “They made her stand in the middle.” The crowd of men forced her to stand in the midst of an angry mob who wanted to kill her. It wasn’t enough to execute her in a way calculated to inflict unimaginable pain. They wanted to shame her, to parade her as a wanton transgressor of male property rights—for that is how “adultery” was commonly defined at this time. (Which is probably why she alone is singled out for punishment, even though it takes two to commit this act).
The violence of the passage intensifies as we see that her public humiliation was only a means to another end: to get at Jesus and bring a charge against him. The emotional abuse and physical violence against this woman is but the pretext to find some way to threaten a man who dared to live outside of the bounds prescribed by his faith and culture.
This Gospel’s traditional title fixates on the woman’s wrong-doing, leading many preachers to focus on the dangers of uncommitted sex and Jesus’s final exhortation, “From now on, do not sin anymore.” But this misses the more insidious brokenness of a society and faith that would sacrifice a woman’s well-being to shore up the value of men and enforce proper male behavior.
The renowned theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, notes that the problem is not that Jesus was a man, but that more men are not like Jesus. Jesus is a model of authentic masculinity. He invites women to see themselves in a light other than what a broken society and faith reflect to them. He challenges men to value women as genuine equals. His spirit inspires the “new things” that God is doing through movements that strive for more just societies that foster the well-being of all, regardless of gender.