Gospel for March 13th, 2016: Fifth Sunday of Lent
The story of the scribes and Pharisees bringing to Jesus the woman guilty of adultery has multiple layers. First, there is the insidious plan of His enemies to entrap Jesus by bringing him a legal dilemma. His position as for or against stoning will either land him on the wrong side of Roman authority or Jewish law. Then there is Jesus’s evasion of the trap by turning the focus away from the girl’s punishment to the fitness of any human to judge the sins of another. He evades taking a position by saying, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (7). Also, there is this cryptic move where Jesus writes on the ground with His finger, an action which surely had some meaning for those who meant to find fault with Jesus, although John does not make its meaning clear for modern readers. Taken together, the scene is highly dramatic and suggests to me that we should leave judgment of others’ sin to God.
Yet I am most interested in the dialogue between the girl and Jesus after the hypocrites leave. It is so uncomplicated and straightforward. In her position, I can see myself either needing to explain why I was guilty of this sin or to thank Jesus profusely for His intervention. However, this doesn’t seem necessary. He asks her, “Has no one condemned you?” She replies simply, “No one, sir.” Finally Jesus sends her on her way with, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore” (10-11).
This is so different from the mental gymnastics I go through before confession. While the anguish from guilt is deserved, so often I allow its weight to paralyze me so that I put off reconciliation. When I read how Jesus forgives the adulteress’s sin, I think it is better to act with simplicity. Jesus already knows the details and depth of my sin. My words need not be many, just genuine and faithful. I have always found the sacrament of reconciliation difficult to embrace. Perhaps, this gospel puts it in the proper perspective, especially in the sense of the outcome: “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”