|Today's Gospel tells us one of the
most interesting stories about Jesus. It is a story that
can guide us in developing our way of living. We can
learn by putting ourselves in the position of the three
main characters in the story.
There is the woman who is caught in
the act of sinning, the scribes and Pharisees who caught
her in the act and Jesus who is asked to pass a judgment
that condemns her.
- Scribes and Pharisees
- The Woman (caught in
In order to understand the story better,
there are a couple of background points one needs to know. For
example, it is important to know that Jerusalem was occupied by
the Romans and that the Romans had restricted the rights of the
Jews in many ways. The Jews, although they had their own laws
from Torah - the Mosaic law - were still under Roman occupation
and would be held responsible for breaking laws made by the
Romans. Most important for this story is that the Romans had made
it illegal for the Jews to use the death penalty. This is what
causes the dilemma for Jesus. Since the right to use the death
penalty - stoning in this case - had been retracted, causing a
stoning could put Jesus in breach of the Roman Law. On the other
hand, the Laws in the Old Testament are relatively clear on the
issue. Adultery was punishable by death through stoning for both
parties to the act. For Jesus to judge that she should go free
would break the Mosaic Law.
So you can understand the dilemma for Jesus.
If he says to stone her - he will be breaking the Roman law. If
he says to let her go free, he will be breaking the Mosaic Law -
the religious law for the Jews. Enough background, let's consider
the story more closely now.
As the story unfolds some interesting points
become clear. This woman was brought to Jesus after being 'caught
in the very act of adultery'. You see, it was necessary that she
be caught in the act because the death penalty required
eyewitnesses. This raises an intriguing question. How was it that
she was caught in the very act? Since the nature of the
adulterous act usually makes it a private act - that is to say
there are normally only two people present during the act of
adultery - witnesses can be hard to come by.
One of two things must have happened. Either
these Scribes and Pharisees who caught her 'in the very act'
walked in on her by accident, which doesn't seem too likely, or
they plotted to catch her in the act in order to create this
legal trap for Jesus. If the latter is true - that a trap was set
- the scribes and Pharisees would also be guilty because they
were condoning this sinful act for their own purpose. There is a
legal point in the Mosaic Law that a prosecution can only be done
by a person free from malice. Since they would be part of the sin,
they could not pass judgment on the woman.
Another thing that seems kind of suspicious
about her being caught in the very act is the absence of the man.
Where was he? The Mosaic law says that both parties are to be
stoned. This seems to indicate that the woman was being set-up to
be caught in the very act.
In any event, Jesus makes his judgment.
"If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to
throw a stone at her." It is interesting that the accusers
leave eldest first. This may show that those who are older and
wiser recognize their own sinfulness more quickly. The
eyewitnesses have particular responsibility with respect to
carrying out the sentence and yet they leave.
Jesus and the woman are left alone.
This is often referred to as a magnificent scene of
contrast. The scene is of two left alone; misery and
mercy; the sinner and the sinless one. Jesus addresses
the woman: "Woman, where are they? Has no one
condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared.
"Go now and leave your life of sin."
Jesus does not condemn her, however he does
not find her guiltless. 'Go and leave your life of sin' implies
that sin was present but Jesus chooses to have mercy and forgive.
As I have read it put, he offers a "full and free pardon
without for a moment excusing or condoning the wrong." The
question I asked myself was: "What can I learn from this and
how can I apply it to my life this week? I decided to put myself
in the shoes of each character - or, more accurately, in the
sandals of each character.
Do I ever behave like the scribes and
Pharisees? Do I jump to conclusions about people and condemn them?
Do I say things when I really have other motives? Am I free of
sin? When I stand with Jesus and my entire life is laid before us,
would He judge me worthy to throw the first stone? This week I am
going to work on avoiding actions that would be associated with
this character of the story and when I catch myself behaving this
way I am going to change that behavior.
What about the woman? Am I engaging in a
sinful behavior? One of the most important things to remember in
this story is that Jesus does not condone the sin. He forgives
and advises her to 'leave your life of sin'. This week I will
examine my actions more closely to see if I need to leave a
sinful behavior behind.
And most importantly, this week I
will try to mold my actions after Jesus. We have all been
hurt, injured, sinned against before. There have been
people who have wronged us. I am going to think about the
people who I feel have wronged me and I am going to
forgive them in my heart. A full and free pardon,
just like Jesus did.