The Woman Caught in Adultery
Last Sunday’s Gospel was a story of forgiveness; it was the story of the prodigal son and the father who loved him and welcomed him home without condition. It was a great act of love on the part of the father but it was one that he could choose to do with freedom. The father was a land owner, he was wealthy and honored. Whatever decision he made about welcoming home his lost son would be respected by all those that knew him.
Today’s Gospel is also about forgiveness, but it is a harder story. It is a story filled with danger intrigue and drama. It is the story of the woman caught in adultery.
As the powerful men of the community bring forward a powerless woman and accuse her of adultery, Jesus is caught in the middle and must make a stand that could undermine his message or end his life. There is no need for evidence, the sin is plain as she is caught in the very act but the woman’s accusers seem to be far less interested in her fate then in how Jesus will respond. It appears that it is really Jesus who is on trial.
Imagine yourself as this woman, a victim in a strange game. Not only are you humiliated by your crime but now you find yourself before a Kangaroo court. Who is this man they are asking questions of. He is not a judge he is just that wandering teacher that everyone has been talking about. It slowly occurs to you that you are nothing in the eyes of these men who have arrested you. Your life, your family, your humanity is meaningless to them. You are a pawn.
This goes beyond a hurt that many of us can understand. But for those who are powerless, jobless, homeless, perhaps there is a hint of recognition.
Jesus understands what they have done to this woman. When comparing what they have done to her with the sin of adultery the charges weigh much more heavily upon her accusers.
Uphold the law and the woman would die; Jesus’ message of the Father’s love would also die with her. Dismiss the woman, ignore the charges and Jesus would be putting his own life on the line, he would be a criminal in the eyes of the law which he himself said that he came to fulfill.
In the end silence is the better option, silence and wisdom. “Search your hearts”, Jesus challenges, “which one of you has never sinned? Let them be the first to cast a stone.”
Jesus turns the tables on those who used a defenseless person to lay a trap for Jesus. He turns the table on everyone who casts judgment on others. Jesus questions how those who have experienced God’s forgiveness can be so quick to lay blame on others.
Nobody is without sin. But the message that Jesus offers is not about sin, it is about forgiveness. The woman will escape judgment today, not just with her life but with new life; a fresh start. Jesus also will escape but his stand for compassion and forgiveness will not keep him from harm for long.
Where in this story do you see yourself; as the accused, as a stone thrower?
Can you accept the forgiveness that will give you a fresh start?
Can you lay down your stone and stop judging others?