Where the buck stops


Humanity has “passed the buck” since the Fall. The blame game started with Adam and Eve. When God questioned Adam, Adam pointed to Eve: “She gave me the fruit from the tree.” Eve, in turn, pointed to the serpent: “the serpent tricked me into it.” And the long history of recrimination goes on from there.

Finger-pointing was among the first effects of original sin. It gave birth to cowardice. Imagine the heroism of Adam, the nobility of character displayed, if he had taken the sin on himself: “yes, I am at fault, and I should have done more to preserve my wife.” Or, imagine Eve saying, “I was allured by lies. I am to blame.” But with sin, came the fear of punishment. The fear of punishment made cowards, and cowards are quick to point fingers.

The blame game finds its way to Jesus in this Sunday’s gospel. Jesus is called to pass sentence on an adulterous woman: “in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” The scribes and Pharisees, pointing fingers, are taking aim for their stones. But first they want to test Jesus. They want to entangle him in the web of assigning guilt, the common lot of fallen humanity. He too, they reason, must dirty his hands by bringing punishment on the sinner. But Jesus is silent.

Jesus has come to bring redemption, not condemnation (Jn 3:17). He is not the judge or arbiter of our cases (Lk 12:14), but the Savior of all. Before him, all are blameworthy, “that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:32). He did not come to decide penalties between sinners, but to bring all sinners to mercy.

Jesus does not share in our sin, and neither does he share in our tangle of charges. When they attempt to ensnare him with the case of the adulteress, Jesus is silent. When pushed on the issue, he responds, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Standing before the Savior, every accusation loses its force. Who could pick up a stone? He takes on the burden of our sins. Who could lay charges on another? With him, the blame game stops: “they went away one by one.” In his presence, all pointing fingers fall.

Jesus does what Adam couldn’t. Jesus takes the blame upon himself (2Cor 5:21). He does not condemn his persecutors. He does not bring charges against Herod or Pilate. He does not indict the false witnesses of his trial. He does not pass the buck. The buck stops at his Cross.

Father George K. Nixon serves as assistant pastor at St. Philip Parish, Greenville. Ordained in 2011, he holds a licentiate in sacred theology from Pontifical North American College in Rome. “Verbum Domini” is a series of Father Nixon’s Scriptural reflections during Lent.