This Sunday’s gospel reading is the ever-famous “Woman Caught in Adultery” scene, found in John 8:1-11. In recent years, I have begun to refer to this incident as a “both sides of the punctuation” topic. If you attend Mass, you will doubtless hear homilies centering on our inability to cast the first stone, which I in no way mean to diminish. I always say that in the ways most pertinent, you, I, and the “worst of the worst” (Osama bin Laden, for instance) are on the same ground: having lost our footing as a result of sin and in need of saving. That is why Jesus is so eager to explicitly say, “Neither do I condemn you.”
Though our hearts should soar upon hearing those words, I am also very quick to point out that there is still an often-overlooked statement on the other side of the period at the end of Christ’s sentence. He immediately goes on to say, “Go and sin no more.” The clear teaching is that, though neither we nor God condemns someone for their sins, each of us does, indeed, condemn ourselves by our sins. Hence, Christ is hurried in giving the woman her spiritual direction: Rid your life of the sin that “so easily besets” you (Heb. 12:1) You may hear this side of the coin preached at Mass.
However, earlier today, I was struck by an aspect of the account that I’d never given thought to before. Of every talk, sermon, homily or reflection I’d ever heard about this passage, not one had been focused on the miraculous experience of the accusers. I’d frequently seen their harshness pointed out, and I’d been shown the error of their ways, but no one has ever highlighted the beautiful completeness and hope in the ultimate outcome of the reading.
The beginning of the scene is, indeed, dire and full of misplaced righteous indignation. If I’m reading it correctly, they’ve nabbed a woman while engaged in the act of adultery, dragged her into public, thrown her down at Jesus feet, and demanded judgement from Him. Even worse, they don’t even seem to care much about her or her sin at all. They seem to view her as merely an object for their use, a pawn in their incessant chess match with Jesus. The peripheral nature of her public shame makes it all the more deplorable. Admittedly, these men were not the heroes of the story.
Thankfully, though, because “Christ…fully reveals man to himself” (Gaudium et Spes, 22), the picture we get of the scribes and the Pharisees at the beginning of the story is, if we look closely, drastically different than the picture we get at the end. In the short span of eleven verses, we not only see the power of God’s love restore a broken woman to her inherent dignity, we also see God’s Truth confound accusing mouths, humble prideful hearts, and open eyes blinded by misguided religious zeal.
How do we know this? Read the text: “And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.” How stunningly gorgeous! Men, who’s fingers were pointed and fists were clenched in outward accusation moments ago, were now moved to interior contemplation and awareness of their own need for mercy. Had they been too hardened or too far gone, they would not have backed down. Convinced of their own righteousness, they would have simply ignored the few, meager words of this Rabbi, Jesus, and proceeded with their stoning; but, they did not. They were changed, moved. They ceased the accusations and walked away.
Brothers and sisters, with the climax of the Lenten season rapidly approaching, let us encounter Christ in a renewed depth. Let us approach Him, blinded by anger if we must, so long as we depart from Him with eyes that see, having set our stones down. Where we condemn, let us cease. Where we sin, let us do the same. Lead by the elders of our Church, let us truly enter into the transforming love of Christ. Oh, that we might change. Oh, that we might yield. Oh, that we might live like the accusers.
***This article can also be found at Ignitum Today***