5th Sunday of Lent (C)

“The law was given through Mosses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.”

The central theme of all three readings is merciful and steadfast love of God.  In the whole of the New Testament we see God, in the person of Jesus, calling his sinful people to be converted, to put their whole trust in the message he brings and to follow his Way, as the way of truth and life. Inaugural message of Jesus is a call to “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Jesus can be called the Sacrament of God among us, because Jesus is the visible manifestation of the power of God working among us.  He is the one came down form heaven to tell us that God loves us and reconciled us to the Father by sacrificing His own life for us. The Gospel of the day displays our constant temptation to use knowledge of God’s law to hurt others, not to liberate them. We gossip, we scapegoat, we blame—and we convince ourselves that we’re just following the divine law in pointing out other people’s problems. But then enters Jesus, who affirms that the law’s primary purpose is to make us humble, to draw us to higher attainment. Without denigrating the law in the least, Jesus reaches out in mercy in order to brings sinners back to life.

Pawn in a game:

The leaders of the Jewish people saw in the woman an opportunity to attack Jesus. They didn’t care whether the woman lived or died; she was just a pawn in their battle against the New Kingdom of God that Jesus was proclaiming. Some say it is the way of the world to use others to forward one’s own agenda, career, position in society, etc. If that is the case, then the way of the world is despicable. Our way needs to be the Way of the Lord. And yes, the Way of the Lord often leads to the Way of the Cross, which gives us eternal life. Here, a decision to stone her would be an indictment against Jesus’ stance of mercy and compassion; a resolution to release her would convict him of a lack of justice and righteousness. The malice of the scribes and Pharisees is viciously directed, not at the adulterous woman, but at the greater “accused”, Jesus Christ. 

The response of Jesus was a big surprise and humiliation to all of them, because his judgment is tempered by mercy and righteousness. According to the Gospel writer: “Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger” (Jn 8:6). This parabolic act is probably an allusion to Jer 17:3: “Those who turn away from thee shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.” If so, Jesus’ writing on the ground is an indirect reminder of the “guilt” of those who were condemning the adulterous woman. 

Jesus’ fair verdict:

The woman waited, to hear Jesus’ verdict. She knew that she was guilty. Jesus Perfectly understood the secret intentions of her self-righteous accusers and the helplessness of the repentant sinner. When the scribes and Pharisees continue to ask him about his judgment concerning the woman’s fate, Jesus straightens up and says: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). Jesus bends down again and writes on the ground, in a symbolic action made more powerful and meaningful by the words he has just spoken. In response to Jesus’ symbolic action and words, the accusers go away one by one, beginning with the elders. Jesus’ writing on the ground and his astonishing challenge to cast the first stone confront the accusers’ culpability and frailty. 

Those about to throw the stones are those who have no problem judging other people. All of us have to fight the inclination to be judgmental. Someone may be a sinner, but it is up to God, the Just Judge, to make that determination, not up to us. So often, we attempt to hide our own sins behind the sins of others. We transfer our hatred for ourselves into hatred for others. Instead of throwing the first stone, we need to remove sin from our own lives.  St. Augustine puts Jesus’ stand as follows: “Let this woman be punished, but not by sinners; let the law be applied, but not by its transgressors.” Thus Jesus ingeniously escaped from the trap by leaving the judgment to the conscience of the accusers. It reduced them to silence prompting them to leave in shame. 

Judgment with a stern warning

Since Jesus knew that her sin was a violation of the sixth commandment: “You shall not commit adultery”he gave the woman the strong warning, “From now on do not sin anymore.”Jesus did not shrink from calling it a sin, inappropriate and offensive to the justice of God. He forgave the sinner but upheld the justice of God by not excusing or explaining away the sin. Without minimizing her sinfulness, Jesus showed the sinner the respect she deserved as a human being, treating her with compassion. 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. 

We need to become forgiving people ready for reconciliation

The central figure in today’s Gospel is not the woman, or the leaders of the Jews, or those about to throw stones, but is Jesus. He sees the person who is being condemned, not just her sin or sins. He is not concerned about the ancient law he came to transform. He is not concerned about the venom of the leaders of the Jews. Nor is he afraid of the angry crowd with stones in hand. All he is concerned about is this woman who needs mercy. The Lord is not concerned about what sins we have committed. He is not concerned with which commandments we have broken. He is only concerned about what these sins are doing to us. He sees us as he saw that woman, cowering before him, expecting his judgment, needing his mercy. 

Let us learn to acknowledge our sins, ask God’s forgiveness every day and extend the same forgiveness to our erring brothers and sisters. We too should learn to hate sin and love the sinners showing them mercy and compassion, sympathy and acceptance, leading them to noble ways by our own exemplary lives.