5thSunday of Lent ( C ) 2019
Like the Prodigal son this gospel of the woman caught committing adultery is a wonderful example of the mercy of God. There is no question of her guilt; the scribes and Pharisees make it clear that she was caught “in the very act of committing adultery”. Notice their attitude. Notice how they make her stand there in full view of everybody; to shame her as much as possible. Then they ask Jesus “Moses has ordered us in the law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say”. They were testing Jesus. They suspected he would be soft on this sinner, and say let her go you bullies, but he doesn’t. If he had of done then they would have had him; he would have been contradicting the sacrosanct law of Moses; the law that Jesus himself upheld. They think they have trapped him.
Jesus, however, doesn’t answer their question, because in truth they are right. The law of Moses does say this. Jesus knows the law better than they do, instead he challenges them. He asks them a question: If there is one of you who had not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”. There must have been a moments silence; no one said anything, but they were thinking about what Jesus had said. Then, we are told, ‘they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest’. That was remarkable. Jesus hasn’t contradicted the law, he hasn’t gone soft on sin, but he has gone soft on the sinner. Jesus who is the Son of God, who has come to tell us about the Father, is telling us that God is merciful.
What Jesus didn’t like about the scribes and Pharisees was their hypocrisy and their hard heartedness. Here they were condemning a sinner yet they were sinners themselves, and maybe even adulterous sinners. They should have been understanding. They should have been soft on the sinner. But they weren’t. In spite of their own sinfulness they wanted her to be punished. I hope they learned the lesson that Jesus was teaching them.
It was a lesson for us all. We are all sinners. So we should be slow to condemn others who have sinned. A good Christian will always be aware of his or her failings, weaknesses and even sinfulness. It’s not nice to have to acknowledge these. We would much rather be without sin, but we’re not. We struggle with sin every day and we fail. And yet, paradoxically, our sins can be our salvation. I say this because a good Christian will always be praying not to sin, always asking God not to be put to the test, not to be led into temptation, as we say in the Our Father. A good Christian will know how fragile they can be; how pathetically weak at times. But it is this awareness that will keep them humble, keep them on their knees. And certainly, keep them from being so judgemental of others who fail. The prayer of the good Christian is “but for the Grace of God go I”. Such a Christian doesn’t throw stones.