I don’t know how true it is, but someone told me that when an elephant goes to the pond to drink water, the first thing the elephant does is to unsettle the water, which sounds unreasonable. One would think that it is safer to drink from settled water since most of the sediments would be at the bottom. In the case of the elephant, the explanation has it that the surface of the settled water acts like a mirror. So, when the elephant looks at the surface of the settled pond, the elephant’s image comes across as another big and scary animal coming from the water. In an attempt to keep that animal away, the elephant unsettles the water.
During the season of Lent, the Church challenges us to summon the courage to look at the image in the mirror through a sincere examination of conscience. Who is in the mirror? Do I like what I see in the mirror? If not, this is the time to work on myself. But this is not an easy assignment. The elephant’s way is easier, which is to unsettle the water and keep the image away. Looking at the mirror means naming my fault, and sincerely working to become a better version of myself. Unsettling the water means exposing other people’s faults, to distract myself and others from seeing my faults.
The Scribes and the Pharisees who brought “a woman…caught in adultery” to Jesus were like the elephant. They made so much noise about the woman’s sin hoping that by so doing, everybody would be distracted from the sins of the Scribes and the Pharisees. In response to them, “Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.” What did he write? The bible seems to have left the answer for us to figure out. For me, this gesture of Jesus was like giving them a mirror to look at, so they could stone the guilty person in the mirror. Rather than argue with them amid the noisy environment they had created, Jesus decided to calm the water, to resettle the unsettled water to enable everyone to look in the mirror. As soon as they recognized themselves in the mirror, they were not pleased with what they saw. Instead of seeking the help of Jesus, they left in shame. The woman, on the other hand, was courageous to look at the image, not because she liked what she saw, but because she knew Jesus could fix it, and truly Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
We can also understand the writing of Jesus on the ground as a fulfillment of the Prophecy of Jeremiah: “Lord, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water” (Jeremiah 17:13). Earlier in John 7:37, Jesus referred to himself as spring of living water as he invites all the thirsty to come and drink. Jesus must have written the names of those scribes and Pharisees on the ground to let them know that by what they had done, they had forsaken Jesus, the hope of Israel. He came not to condemn, but to call back the lost children of God. In Chapter 4 of Luke’s Gospel, he had told them that he came to set free those in bondage, they still insisted on bringing the woman for him to put her in bondage.
This gesture of Jesus also reveals him as the Lamb of Sacrifice, the Scapegoat. Before this time, all attention was on the sinner, the woman caught in adultery, but when they got to Jesus, he took the center stage, all attention was diverted to him as he began to write, and the accusers seemed to have forgotten about their accused. This is what Jesus did for us on Good Friday, he went to the cross, and by so doing he took away the attention of the accuser (the devil) from us (sinners) to himself on the cross. The death he died was our death; the suffering was ours; the cross was ours. It was wrongly believed that Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus to carry Jesus’ Cross, but the truth of the matter is that the Cross was meant for Simon of Cyrene (representing you and me), Jesus was the helping hand.
The accusers (scribes and Pharisees) left there condemned while the accused (the woman caught in adultery) left there forgiven and graced to sin no more. It doesn’t matter how you were before you came to Jesus; what matters is how much you let him work on you. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “I am only certain there will be three surprises in Heaven. First of all, I will see some people whom I never expected to see. Second, there will be a number whom I expected who will not be there. And – even relying on God’s mercy – the biggest surprise of all may be that I will be there.” My dearly beloved in Christ, let’s be honest with ourselves and look in the mirror. It is only then that positive changes can occur in us.