Testifying on Behalf of Jesus

Yesterday, we held the Trial of Christ – Sentencing Phase at the UST Law School, as part of our Orientation Week program for incoming law students.

My friend and colleague Mark Osler (the prosecutor) and Chicago public defender Jeanne Bishop (defense attorney) have been putting on the Trial of Christ in various locations around the country over the past couple of years. (You can read a little about the project here.) Yesterday was the second time we’ve done the trial at the law school. (You can watch the video from that trial, which occurred this past Lent, here.)

Each of the prosecution and the defense called two witnesses. Jeanne, thinking about their three upcoming trials in California, which will occur shortly before voters in California consider a referendum on capital punishment, decided to call as her second witness for the defense (the first was the Centurion whose servant Jesus healed) the woman caught in adultery (John 8). When Mark walked into my office Monday afternoon and asked if I would be willing to take the part of that witness, I had some initial hesitation, but then agreed to testify.

I suspect this story is familiar to most people. A woman caught in the act of adultery is brought by the Pharisees and scribes to Jesus, who is teaching in the temple. They are prepared to stone her, the legal punishment for her crime. When they ask Jesus what he had to say about what the law requires, he says nothing, but kneels and begins to write something in the dirt. When they continue asking, he gets up and says to them “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, the men go away, leaving Jesus with the woman. When he asks her who is left to condemn her, she says no one, to which he responds “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

I found it both difficult and powerful to testify – both the preparation and the actual trial experience was an Ignatian Contemplation for me. I was the woman in that scene, experiencing what she experienced and having her interaction with Jesus. A couple of things stood out to me:

First was her recognition of the incredibly unearned gift she received from Jesus. She was guilty of her crime, she knew the punishment and she was terrified, knowing that she was going to die. (And die a painful death.) I felt her terror (not to mention the humiliation of being dragged through the streets and put before Jesus and the crowd in the temple area) and then her dawning relief as she realized she would not die. The grace of being accepted by Jesus, of not being condemned by him, despite her sin, was amazing. She (I) understood the gift she (I) had been given.

Second was the incredible intimacy of the encounter with Jesus. I testified as I experienced the scene praying with it beforehand, and what I said was (something like) this: “Jesus reached out and pulled me up from the ground. He then put one hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes. No one had ever looked at me like that before. He then gestured at the empty air with his other hand, and asked me, ‘Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?’ I answered, ‘No sir, they have all left.’ Then Jesus put his hand on my face and said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.'”

As I testified, I was aware of no one in the room except Jeanne, who was examining me, and Jesus – who sits silent at the defense table during the trial. As I said that he looked at me, I looked at the student playing Jesus and saw only Jesus. The intensity of the woman’s experience of Jesus, which I felt, was almost painful it was so deeply intimate.

The final thing that struck me – this during the brief cross-examination – was the concern that I might say something that could cause Jesus to be executed. I was a witness for the defense, but what if I inadvertently said something te prosecutor could twist in his favor. That’s something I need to unpack some more. In fact, I know I need to pray with the entire experience some more; there was a lot going on there.

At some point, there will be a video of the trial. I’ll link it when there is.