There are numerous stories in the Bible. I would consider today’s (Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C) gospel of the woman caught in adultery as one that many people remember. You may remember it but how much do you reflect on what our Lord is telling us in this story?
The scribes and the Pharisees bring a woman to Jesus who “was caught in the very act of committing adultery.” There is no question to her guilt. Well, maybe one, if she did she commit adultery, where is the person she committed adultery with? That person would be guilty of the same crime.
The question is not of her guilt. Jesus is concerned with how we treat sinners. However, that is not the motive of the scribes and the Pharisees. They are not concerned about the woman. She is a living, breathing child of God but they show no concern for her.
The scribes and the Pharisees refer to the law where Moses commanded “to stone such women.” They ask Jesus what He thinks. If they were really interested in what Jesus says as a lesson in faith, that would be wonderful. However, they think they already know what to do with the adulterous woman. Their motive is “to test him, so they might have some to bring against him.” They use the woman as a means to get what they want.
Jesus knows what they are up to. He does not fall into their trap. He simply “bent down and began to write on the ground.” What did He write? Did He about the commandments? Forgiveness? Mercy? We do not know. We are not told of any reaction to what he writes from those questioning him.
Since He does not answer, they continue to ask him what He thinks. Should she be stoned? He replied, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The scribes and the Pharisees do not admit their sins openly but we are all sinners. They offer no reply.
Jesus again “wrote on the ground.” Again, we do not know what He wrote. Some people speculate that He was writing down their sins. Why suppose this? Because one by one, they went away without saying anything more. Did they each leave when Jesus wrote down a sin they had committed? We do not know nor do we need to.
What we do need to think about is how we treat sinners. Are we kind and merciful to them? Do we show them the same mercy we seek from Jesus? Do we forgive as we say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?”
After everyone leaves, Jesus speaks to the woman, “Has no one condemned you?…Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
It is very important for us to think about these words of Jesus. When He says, “do not sin any more,” He indicates that she did sin. Why else would He say, “do not sin any more“? It also means that Jesus saying she needs to stop sinning. He does not condemn but neither does He say her sin does not matter.
He treats her with mercy.
Jesus offers us the same mercy.
God has always offered his mercy. Today’s first reading comes from Isaiah at a time when the Israelites had been in exile in Babylon. God is bringing the Exile to an end as He “opens a way.” The Lord leads a powerful army for, as we say in the Holy, Holy, Holy (the Sanctus) at Mass, He is the “Lord God of hosts.” God leads an army of angels in the battle against evil.
God forgives them their sins and tells them, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not.” God wants us to let go of the past, confessing our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and move on. When we feel abandoned “in the desert“, God will make a way for us. This is what He offered the Israelites. This is what He offers us, a new way. Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life.“
Our Lord wants to “restore our fortunes.” By fortunes, we do not mean material wealth. What is our greatest fortune? The love of God.
We fall short. We sin. Do not despair. As Paul writes we are called to continue our pursuit in hope of the prize that God offers us. We do not save ourselves. Paul writes to the Philippians, “For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” We need to turn from worldly pleasures to the things of God. We cannot do this on our own. We do not need to. We do in “through faith in Christ.“