( A Commentary on John 8: 1-11)
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 anymore.” (John 8:1-11)
Once again, the scribes and Pharisees seek to discredit Jesus in any way they could. Not only does Jesus not enter the trap, but his actions cause them to slink away and his actions teach us a powerful lesson about mercy, forgiveness and our own hypocrisy.
Jesus had little use for religious laws made by men that favored authority over mercy. As a spiritual director once said “Our God is a rule breaker. Don’t focus on the rules. Focus on God.” If we spend our time in following the way of Jesus then sin drops away because we know it betrays our love of Him.
But there is another aspect to this scripture as well. The adulteress woman is a projection of all the men that surround her. In her they see all of their inability to be faithful to the Law. They project onto her their frustration, their inability to persevere. This woman’s adultery is their own potential adultery, their own inevitable infidelity to God. Those who accused her realize that they have become the accused.
Life is like a constant game of mirrors: we project our frustrations onto others, we condemn them for things we don’t dare see in ourselves, yet we care for others when they display our most fragile features. We overlook the fact that other people constantly show us a reflection of ourselves and reveal parts of us that we would be unable to see otherwise.
Sometimes we need to clean the mirror so we can see the truth. We may not like the mirror. We might even want to smash it. Yet, mirrors can initiate a conversion in our hearts.
The next time, you may want to point a finger or utter a moralistic “tsk-tsk” remember that this woman is also a reflection of each of us. In her freedom we see ourselves freed. In her we can see our own astonishment: we were adulterers and yet we have not been stoned. This woman does not deserve forgiveness and neither do we. And yet God has given it to us. We are left in wonder with this woman of the Gospel.
Perhaps enough wonder to look into a clean mirror.
Prayer of The Day
“God our Father, we find it difficult to come to you, because our knowledge of you is imperfect. . . But since Jesus came among us, he has shown that you are loving, that you are on our side against all that stunts life, and that our resentment against you was groundless. So, we come to you, asking you to forgive our past ignorance, and wanting to know more and more of you and your forgiving love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. “(Prayer of Saint Augustine)
If Jesus stands in mercy with the underdog, that’s where Christians are challenged to stand. Is that where we are?
Without minimizing her sinfulness, Jesus showed the sinner the respect she deserved as a human being, treating her with compassion. Clearly, he valued repentance and conversion more than simple reprisal. Not only did Jesus not condemn the woman, he even gave her hope for the future. Jesus is thus portrayed as a living expression of the Divine Mercy, a wise and kind judge, more concerned with forgiveness and rehabilitation than with punishment and death. God’s grace enables us to confront our sin for what it is – unfaithfulness to God, and to turn back to God with a repentant heart and a thankful spirit for God’s mercy and forgiveness.