It’s sad, but shame sells

Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery by Lorenzo Lotto 1528

Those who exposed her were convinced, of course, that they were doing the work of God. They always are. What better way to scorch evil than to shine a bright light upon it? And if the pursuit of truth and justice involved a woman’s shame, well then, she chose her avocation. She put herself in a position to be of interest to men, to their sense of right and wrong. She made herself an object. They only added the shame.

But imagine yourself in her position. Difficult for many men to do, probably. She had no relationship with the man to whom she was linked, to whom she will be forever linked. It was he who took the sad, sick interest in her. He is the one who stalked her, who lied—though with very little effort on his part—to hotel employees, who then gave him a room next to her own.


Once you see another as an object of your desires, it is only a small step to see the other as an object to be marketed. And so he published the video of her disrobing, which he had made through his peep hole. Recognizing the name and possessing the intrusive power of search engines, it’s estimated that 17 million people have watched the video of Erin Andrews.

This past week The New York Times reported that women sportscasters are routinely stalked and threatened. Where does the exploitation begin? Where does it end? Andy Warhol once predicted that “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes,” but everyone enters modern mass media as an object to be manipulated, an image to be marketed, a story to be sold. Didn’t Erin Andrews realize that when she became an American sportscaster, a journalist and a “television personality”? One could argue that she sold herself, as surely as Brian Williams did when he signed on to host NBC World News Tonight. Who hasn’t been caught in lie, but, if we pay you to entertain us, even your shame is sellable.

When a face is marketable, so is the story. Are the cable TV and evening news broadcasts of Erin Andrews, crying in the courtroom, less vulgar, less intrusive, less manipulative than the images of her naked? Sad, but shame sells. Even unearned shame.

Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground (Jn 8: 6-8).


She wasn’t dragged into his presence because of sin, though surely she had known her share of it. They shuffled her in front of him to shame her and to stump him. They used her as surely as had her adulterous companion.

Jesus meets her and refuses to treat her as an object. The merciful Lord addresses her directly, without condescension. She is not called daughter or child. He says,

Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (Jn 8: 10-11).


The human person has been characterized so many ways. Homo sapiens (the knower), homo faber (the maker), homo politicus (the politician), homo ludens (the player). We are surely also homo tractans (the manipulator). We turn most everything into an object, even each other. We view each other as consumers, as customers, as audience and crowd.

The liturgy may be the only time that we come together without manipulation, as children of the same God, as men and women who are the Body of Christ. From a purely human perspective liturgy does nothing. It produces nothing. It markets nothing. It’s not even intended to be instruction. It’s simply we, being who we are, together before God. Hearing stories of liberation, feeding upon the body and the blood of the one who freely chose to give himself into our hands.

Isaiah 43: 16-21  Philippians 3: 8-14  John 8: 1-11              

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
William Rydberg
2 years 10 months ago
Back in the day Pope St John Paul II led a series of teachings which eventually became known as "Theology of the Body". I suggest that those interested perhaps Google search. in Christ,
Robert Killoren
2 years 10 months ago
Thank you for your insights.
Lisa Weber
2 years 10 months ago
For women, this day's reading is perhaps the most important of all the Gospel stories. By defending the woman caught in adultery, Jesus made it safe for women to take part in public life. If he had not done that, women would still be killed for even a credible accusation of adultery. Motivation for accusations always exists because women are jealous and men desirous of a pretty woman. Being under threat of a death sentence for an accusation of adultery makes it unsafe for women to be out in public. Shaming is bad enough, killing women is worse. And the men involved apparently don't receive even a scornful glance.


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