WE ALL NEED FORGIVENESS
As is his custom, Jesus has spent the night alone with his dear Father on the Mount of Olives. He’s beginning a new day, full of God’s Spirit who sends him to «proclaim freedom to the captives… and bring liberty to the oppressed». Right away we see him surrounded by a crowd that fills the plaza of the temple to listen to him.
Suddenly a group of scribes and Pharisees break in, bringing along «a woman who had been caught committing adultery». They aren’t worried about the terrible destiny awaiting this woman. No one questions anything. She’s already condemned. Her accusers put it very clearly: «The Law of Moses commands us to stone adulterers. What do you have to say?».
It’s a dramatic situation: the Pharisees are tense, the woman terrified, the people waiting expectantly. Jesus keeps a surprising silence. He has before him that humiliated woman, condemned by everyone. She will soon be executed. Is that God’s last word about this daughter of God’s?
Jesus, who is seated, bends down to the ground and begins to write something in the dust. Certainly he’s seeking enlightenment. The accusers demand his response in the name of the Law. He will give them a response from his experience of God’s mercy: that woman and her accusers, all of them, are in need of God’s forgiveness.
The accusers are only thinking of the woman’s sin and the Law’s condemnation. Jesus will change the perspective. He will place the accusers in front of their own sinfulness. Before God, all have to recognize themselves as sinners. All need God’s forgiveness.
Since they keep on insisting, Jesus stands up and says to them: «Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her». Who are you to condemn this woman to death, forgetting your own sins and your own need for God’s forgiveness and mercy?
The accusers went away one by one. Jesus points to a way of living together where the death penalty can’t be the last word about a human being. Later on, Jesus will solemnly say: «I haven’t come to judge the world, but to save it».
Jesus’ dialogue with the woman throws new light on what he’s doing. The accusers are gone, but the woman is still there. It appears that she needs to hear the last word from Jesus. She doesn’t feel freed yet. Jesus tells her: «Neither do I condemn you. Go away, and from this moment sin no more».
He offers her forgiveness, and at the same time, he invites her to sin no more. God’s forgiveness doesn’t do away with responsibility, but does demand conversion. Jesus knows that «God doesn’t desire the death of the sinner, but that the sinner be converted and live».
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf