A powerful lesson of forgiveness. JOHN 8:1–11
Last Sunday, we encountered God’s forgiveness when we read the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’. This parable demonstrated God’s mercy and compassion.
Today’s gospel, unlike last week’s, is not a parable but an account from John’s gospel on God’s mercy and forgiveness. In this gospel, we read of an encounter of Jesus with the scribes and Pharisees and a woman caught in adultery.
The gospel begins with Jesus teaching a multitude of people in the temple. However, the scribes and Pharisees interrupted Him when they brought an adulterous woman.
The scribes and Pharisees claimed that the woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. According to the Mosaic law, adultery is a capital crime and punishable by death (Lev 20:10).
These holier-than-thou men subjected this woman to public scrutiny and ridicule. Following our recently concluded Carnival festivities, a politician highlighted the issue of obesity but his approach was less than desirable. His comments subjected a plus-sized woman to public shame and ridicule, much like what the scribes and Pharisees did to the adulterous woman in the gospel. Can you relate to this woman’s experience?
The scribes and Pharisees approached Jesus with the adulterous woman because they wanted to trick Jesus. If Jesus condoned the stoning, He would have been reported to the Romans. The Jewish people were not allowed to administer capital punishment as cited in the Passion’s narrative according to St John.
Conversely, if He stopped the stoning, He would have been accused of going against the Torah. Jesus faced a conundrum; however, His response left everybody speechless.
He bent down to write on the ground with His finger while the scribes and Pharisees pressed for an answer. Many scholars believe that Jesus wrote the sins of the people in the crowd. However, I prefer Fr John Theodore’s explanation. He said that Jesus probably wrote, “Where is the man?”.
Jesus knew that the woman was guilty but He also knew His enemies’ intentions. Instead of giving a direct answer, Jesus said, “If there is any one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
At this juncture, Jesus shows compassion and mercy towards the woman. He waited for the witnesses to cast their stone since they were the ones who allegedly caught her in the act.
Jesus’ response probably tugged at their core. The scribes and Pharisees were forced to re-examine their lives and their sins. At least they were cognisant of their unworthiness and left one by one beginning with the eldest until Jesus was the only one left with her.
Jesus asked the woman if anyone condemned her. Since no one was left, Jesus told her that He too did not condemn her and that she should not sin anymore. Could you imagine the relief this woman felt when Jesus said this to her?
We may encounter a similar feeling at the Sacrament of Reconciliation when the priest says, “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Although Jesus (who was without sin) could have thrown the first stone He chose to show the woman mercy and forgiveness. Shouldn’t we emulate Jesus’ example by the way we treat others?
At the end of each Mass, we are invited to go back into the world to “glorify the Lord by our lives”. Before you act, always ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?”
I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.
The Gospel Meditations for April are by Dr René Jerome Wihby, an assistant lecturer at the School of Education, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus and attends St Paul’s RC, Couva.