New methods and practices designed to save lives can cost them if the people entrusted with those lives stay locked into their old ways. That’s as true today as it was when this Sunday’s Mass readings were written. And as applicable.
Case in point: More than 300 lives were lost in two recent crashes of Boeing’s newest jet, the 737 Max. This jet was redesigned with technology to automatically control and stabilize the upward pitching moment caused by the airliner’s larger, more energy-efficient engines. The only problem was, Boeing didn’t bother informing all of the pilots, who thought stabilization was still their job. So the old tried-and-true teachings that served the pilots on those two doomed flights so well throughout hundreds of other flights might have ended up costing them their own lives and those of their passengers.
In the gospel reading for this Sunday’s mass (Jn 8:1-11), the scribes and Pharisees who took it upon themselves to pilot lost souls by the tried-and-true Mosaic rule book were about to throw that book and many heavy rocks at a woman whose soul they believed was beyond saving. Then Jesus enters the scene. He is the author of a new rule book designed to save not only souls such as hers, but those of the ones who claim authority over them. But these pilots are skeptical of the new methodologies they’ve heard Jesus preaching, so here’s their chance to put his new guidelines to the test:
They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
Jesus scribbles in the sand then replies:
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” … And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. … Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.”
These new guidelines for safe passage of the soul require empathy for other souls, as well as adoption of a new alert system that heightens awareness of one’s own blinding hypocrisy. Oh, and let’s not forget the advisory Jesus tacked onto the end of his lesson to ensure proper navigation of the soul he just saved:
“Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
The new rule book requires much more self-governance and much less dependence on the auto-pilot of “this is how it’s always been done.” Sunday’s first reading (Is 43:16-21) shows Isaiah to be a prophet who spans both our Old and New rule books as he offers this update, quoting the Author of all time:
Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers … for my chosen people to drink, the people whom I formed for myself, that they might announce my praise.
Built into that praise are guidelines for future generations of trainers and travelers to fly right. And though even the best of those trainers often hit bumpy air—like St. Paul, who never forgot the flawed persecution rulebook he once relied on—they learned to stay focused on what lies beyond our mortal horizon. In Sunday’s second reading (Phil 3:8-14), Paul signs off with the guidance of the Master he and we must remember as we make our final stabilized-upward approach to the destination promised us:
Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.