The Gospel for today is another unique story, the story of the adulterous woman found only in John. Scholars speculate that this story was a later edition to the text as it does not seem very Johannine, and may have been written by same author of Luke – Acts. The Church believes it to be inspired scripture and it remains one of the most popular stories in all the Bible.
while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. 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?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. 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. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “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.” John 8:1-11
Our friend Fr. Jon at Redemptorist Preacher takes an in-depth look at the underlying drama to the story; after all, this was a trap being laid for Jesus, one of several instances in the Gospel in which he is challenged by Jewish leaders with a seemingly no-win situation (e.g. the question of paying Roman taxes). Here the trap is that while Mosaic law (religious) required adulterers to be stoned to death, Roman law (civil) forbade any private capital punishment. Should Jesus heed the Hebrew law of his ancestors or obey the might of the Roman authorities? Either way he answers could lead to his own death. The scribes and Pharisees chose a very visible, crowded venue to challenge him. How fraught the situation, and how humiliating for this woman, who likely may have been dragged there immediately after being found in flagrante delicto.
My Sunday to Sunday nonsensical weekly just wanted to discuss the inherent sexual bias of the story and bemoan that women are still being kept down by The Man. You know, the Church and the Pope and mean guys everywhere. Blessedly, our Bible study leader decided to scrap the Gospel reflections from the Sunday to Sunday and instead spend the entire time leading our own discussion, which was enlightening and uplifting. I confess that I disliked this story for a long time. In my opinion, it was used in an anti-Christian way for far too long, and is the go-to verse for moral relativists everywhere. But I am so glad that I had this week to study and reflect on it. I have a whole new appreciation for the complexity of this Gospel.
Our Bible study was wonderful, too. We dwelt on Jesus’ silence, his remarkable silence. In reflecting on our discussion, it occurs to me that this possibly throwaway story shows us the way to be Christians, as Jesus role models the virtues we should aspire to:
Everyone discussing this Gospel account sooner or later uses it to point to Jesus’ non-judgment and that oftentimes becomes the sole takeaway from it. “Jesus said he didn’t judge the woman and neither should we.” This (I think) is an incorrect lesson for us, or at least not the sole lesson. Jesus does not condemn the adulteress, but I think he does judge the woman. In so doing, he actually shows us how to judge. Never does Jesus tell her she is not a sinner and not guilty of her crime. In fact, he forgives her and instructs her to turn from her path of sin – “go and sin no more.” See that? He did not simply say, “Go on, beat it!” He did not say, “well then, clearly you are not guilty.”
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “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.”
The condemnation of the crowd would have been her stoning, her loss of earthly life. Jesus does not condemn her and in so doing, he presages our Reconciliation sacrament. Jesus’ pardon refers to her eternal condemnation. Jesus frees her; he is her savior just as we know he is ours. He came to free us from our sins. But inherent in this act of compassion, and mercy is his act of divine justice. The woman must not sin anymore.
And what does that mean, “sin no more”? We know by the Catechism that we are all sinners and fall short of the grace of God. Is the woman, and are we, required to “sin no more”? How can we take on such a burden? What is Jesus telling us?
In order to be absolved of our sins, in order for God’s merciful forgiveness to be ours, we must convert our hearts. We must renounce the sin in which we find ourselves and we must earnestly intend to not persist in it. How many of us understand that? We ask for God’s forgiveness but have we truly renounced our sin within our heart of hearts? Do we walk into our confession hardened to Jesus’ words? We know from Revelation and from Pauline letters that we may not persist in our sins, and that Jesus WILL come again to judge the living and the dead. Our acts on earth will be weighed in the balance. So we must repent now, and that means to renounce our sins and promise to do better.
So how are we to judge if we should not condemn? We know that only God knows the secrets of our hearts, and only He has perfect justice and mercy. We must trust to His justice. But as Christians, we are called upon to lead our fallen brothers and sisters back to the path, and correct one another in a spirit of love and gentleness. In good faith, can we allow those entrusted to our care to persist in their sin? I think we cannot. Adultery, premarital sex, gossiping, sloth, illegal business practices, addictions, whatever the moral failing, this Gospel is not telling us it is none of our business. It is showing us the way to intervene as a Christ follower should: take time to reflect in silence and humility, maybe get down in the dirt a bit to fully understand the situation, see all sides, when finally necessary to speak, do so calmly, temperately and fairly, do not offer condemnation but rather love, forgiveness and a hope for reconciliation, make it clear to the sinner that Christ expects their metanoia.
Our sins are so hard to renounce, our hearts slow to convert. Speaking the truth in charity and gentleness must be matched by our own humility, our understanding of our own failures. We have a faith that goes beyond following an established set of rules. Our faith requires us to devote our time, energy, intellect and spirit in a constant conversion away from ourselves and over to God.
Our God is so awesome!
Pray with me:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend thee, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.
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