Woman Caught in Adultery
Jesus was asked by the Pharisees a moral question about a woman caught in adultery.
What might you say? Have you ever been a victim? Have you ever been harmed or unjust words and actions leveled against you? Have you ever thought or audibly commented what just happened to you is not fair, or undeserved? What was your initial response? Does it demand a remedy? A justice delivered through an apology, restitution or wishing to get even? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then today’s Gospel story will ring true in your hearing.
So often, the scriptural passage from the eighth chapter of John has been interpreted as a lesson not to judge others lest we ourselves be judged. Indeed, the meaning of treating others as we are ourselves would like to be treated is clear from the text. However, there is more to glean about the universal condition of a fallen humanity in which we all share and the forgiveness God offers.
The Scribes and the Pharisees bring a woman to Jesus who had been caught “red-handed” in an act or acts if adultery which is directly opposed to the Law of Moses. The law is clear and unambiguous. The law directed her sin could only be punished with her life. The rationale behind the law is the death of the woman would compensate for the loss the community suffered because of her infidelity. Typically, in Jewish thought, the community was paramount to their existence, and the units making up the community are the family. Adultery was not only a sin between two people, but also the whole community was harmed because of the obvious attack on marriage and the family. The Scribes and the Pharisees were no more than the representatives of the whole community as the keepers of Mosaic Law.
In their effort to convict the woman, the ‘community’ via the Scribes and Pharisees pose the question to Jesus, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” The trap was set. If Jesus lets her be stoned than he is a hypocrite because he often speaks of God’s love and forgiveness. On the other hand, if Jesus instructs them not to kill her, then he must be an insurrectionist not following Judaic law.
Throughout his life, Jesus never fits into the small spaces we sometimes like to put him. He never falls prey to the traps we set. Jesus instead responds, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.… And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.” At that moment, those wishing to punish the woman realized that they were not only the victim, but more importantly, they came to the conclusion, they too, have been the cause of hurt, the cause of disharmony, the cause of weakening the community they were charged to represent.
They understood they were no better than the woman. In fact, their obsession for earthly justice turned from being the victim, to the one’s perpetrating acts of aggression. Now both the woman and the Pharisees are the one who victimizes and the one who is victimized.
Time for Conversion
Having shown a sinful humanity are both victims and oppressors, the moment of conversion is ripe. The woman, who incidentally, represents all of humanity, is left alone with Jesus. A gentle question is now asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” No one can ever be converted; can never have true peace, or find reconciliation unless we avail ourselves to the message of this Gospel. Simply, although we may be a victim at one time or another, we have also victimized others.
Once shortcomings are acknowledged, mercy and forgiveness can become real. The words ever so sweet, will bring peace, “has no one condemned you? No one sir. Nor do I condemn you— but avoid this sin.”
Once forgiven and convinced to amend or old ways, will we experience true conversion just as the woman caught in adultery had.