Woman Caught in Adultery

Pope Francis Reflects on the Woman Caught in Adultery

Sunday, 7 April 2019

(Edited by Father Al for bulletin use)

TWO  ATTITUDES. On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, the liturgy presents us the episode of the adulterous woman (Jn 8:1-11). In it, there are two contrasting attitudes: The Pharisees want to condemn the woman because they believe they are the guardians of the Law and its faithful implementation. Jesus wants to save her because he personifies God’s mercy which redeems by forgiving and renews by reconciling. Jesus’ interrogators are confined to narrow legalism and want to oblige the Son of God to conform to their perspective of judgment and condemnation; however, he did not come into the world to judge and condemn, but rather to save and offer people a new life. 

JESUS RESPONDS. And how does Jesus react to this test? First of all, he remains silent for some time and then he bends down to write on the ground with his finger, as if to remind them that the only Legislator and Judge is God who had inscribed the Law on stone. And then he says: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). In this way, Jesus appeals to the conscience of those men: they felt they were the ‘champions of justice’, but he reminds them of their own condition as sinners, due to which they cannot claim the right to life or death over one of their fellow human beings.

JESUS IS MERCY HIMSELF. And in the end only Jesus and the woman are left there in the middle: “misery with mercy”, as Saint Augustine says in his famous commentary on John. Jesus is the only one without fault, the only one who could throw a stone at her, but he does not do so – God “does not want the death of the wicked but that the wicked convert and live” (see Ezekiel 33:11). Jesus sends the woman on her way with these wonderful words: “Go and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). And thus Jesus opens a new path to her, created by mercy, a path that requires her commitment not to sin again. 

OUR STORY, TOO. This story is an invitation that applies to each one of us. When Jesus forgives us, he always opens a new path on which to go forward. In this Lenten Season, we are called to recognize ourselves as sinners and to ask God for forgiveness. And, in its turn, while forgiveness reconciles us and gives us peace, it lets us start again, renewed. Every true conversion is oriented toward a new future, a new life, a beautiful life, a life free from sin, a generous life. Let us not be afraid to ask Jesus for forgiveness because he opens the door to this new life for us. May the Virgin Mary help us to bear witness to all of the merciful love of God, who through Jesus, forgives us and renders our lives new, by always offering us new possibilities.