The 5th Sunday of Lent
First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 126:1-6
Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 3:8-14
Gospel: According to St. John 8:1-11
Not only is this week’s gospel reading possibly the best depiction of the mercy of God in action in all of the public ministry of Jesus, but it is also unique in that it is the only recounting in all of the gospels of Jesus writing something.
“Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.”
Once He stood up, the scribes and Pharisees continued to question Him about what to do with the woman caught in adultery. So He bent down and continued to write on the ground.
“And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.”
“And in response…” So, they went away because of what Jesus wrote on the ground. What could He have written to turn away people who were gathered for the sole purpose of testing Him and for whom the woman was simply the means to that end?
Speculation abounds – from writing the sins of the accusers to writing their names (in line with a verse from Jeremiah that talks about the names of the forsaken being written in the earth). Whatever it was, it convinced them all to depart and to leave Jesus alone with the woman.
This incident gives us the oft-quoted proverb “he who is without sin can cast the first stone.” It is good to follow the lead of the scribes and the Pharisees here and leave the stones on the ground. Each of us has enough to worry about in our own lives such that bringing the guilty before God to have them judged shouldn’t be on our personal to-do lists.
Yet, we must also remember that Jesus does not leave us to ponder only the impropriety of the scribes and the Pharisees. He turns his attention to the woman, and in doing so also turns His attention to us.
He does not tell the woman that the scribes and Pharisees misread the situation; in fact just the opposite is implied. The accusers did not go away because Jesus pointed out that she was not caught in adultery. Yet despite saving her life, Jesus does not let her off the hook.
“Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
This seems backwards. The admonition not to sin again should come before forgiveness. In between should be her response and promise to avoid sin in the future. Why does He forgive without any commitment from the woman that she will leave her life of sin behind?
In my reimagining the event I like to think that it relates to another proverbial saying: “The eyes are the window to the soul.” I see the woman, scared beyond belief, looking into the eyes of Jesus and meeting there neither hatred nor condemnation, but pity and love. In that instant Jesus looks into her soul and knows all that brought her to where she is at that moment.
Jesus sees a broken soul longing to be made whole, and the woman sees the One who can make it happen. Jesus offers her the chance to be reconciled not only with Him, but with herself – the true self that she was created to be. In that moment – eye to eye, soul to soul – she is forgiven and is offered freedom. For her, and for all of us, the stones of condemnation can now be used to break the shackles that bind us to sin and keep us from the selves that God created us to be. All we need to do is look honestly into the eyes of the Lord.