Case dismissed!

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Fifth Sunday of Lent

A week from today, we will be celebrating Palm Sunday which ushers in the Holy Week. The gospel reading (Jn. 8:1–11) helps us to continue our personal and communal preparation in the reliving of the Easter Triduum — the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

While Jesus was in the temple area teaching the people, the Scribes and the Pharisees brought before Him a woman caught in adultery. For the Jews, adultery is one of the three big sins — the other two being idolatry and murder — for which there is no tolerance and whose penalty is death. They believe that marriage is sacred and anyone who violates its sanctity must be openly and severely punished to make it clear that nobody can mess around with it. Aware of Jesus' teaching on forgiveness — He taught His disciples to forgive “not seven times but seventy times seven” (MT 18:22) — they now asked Him, “So what do you say?”

They did this so they would “have some charge to bring against Him.” If He granted her freedom, He would be openly undermining the law. If He observed the law and permitted her death, His preaching on God's mercy and forgiveness would become meaningless. The trap appeared inescapable.

Jesus bent down twice to write on the dust. What He wrote no one knows. But perhaps while doing so, He wondered why these religious leaders were using this woman for their own selfish reasons; why they were so bent on putting her down instead of helping her get up; and finally, why they were more interested in punishing sin than in preventing it.

Jesus was now going to show them how God dealt with sinners. So He told them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” No, He was not telling them that the woman was innocent of the charge. Rather, He was telling them to go over their own personal histories of sin and if they found themselves innocent, then they could cast the first stone. In effect, He was telling them: “Being sinners yourselves, you should not be quick to condemn others.” For like the woman, they too were in need of God's mercy and forgiveness. Sure enough, after hearing Jesus' words, they began to go away one at a time, led by the eldest — presumably the one with the longest history of sin.

Alone with the woman, Jesus asked her, “Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

There are many things we can learn from this episode. For one, we can apply to ourselves what Jesus said elsewhere, “Judge not so that you will not be judged.” We can also learn from the values and perspectives of the Scribes and the Pharisees on the one hand and Jesus on the other. The Scribes and Pharisees only saw the woman's sin and her sinful past. So they wanted her stoned along with her sin as the law of Moses prescribed. They were not willing to give her another chance to change her life.

On Jesus' part, what He saw in the woman was not her sinful past but her saintly future. What this means is that His love and mercy for her could release that energy in her which could make her live up to the love and mercy He offered. Along this line, there is a tradition that says that the woman caught in adultery was Mary Magdalene. And what a great a saint she had become! This was made possible because Jesus loved her and believed in her potential to be a saint. This she become by following what Jesus said: “Go, and from now on do not sin any more” and thereafter cooperated with God's grace.

Like the woman caught in adultery, we are all guilty of sin — if not of adultery, then of something else. Yet we should not despair because we have Jesus and not the Scribes and Pharisees who will be our judge. Jesus sees in each one of us a future saint which we can become if only we repent and put ourselves in the love and mercy of God.

One author has written that we Christians are optimists by definition. As far as the past is concerned, we believe in a merciful God who forgives the penitent sinner. And as far as the future is concerned, we know that we will overcome misery and evil and build a better future because we have faith in Someone Who is stronger than we are, in Someone Who loves us always and is always ready to forgive us.

What Jesus urges us to do is to learn to forgive others, instead of doting on their wrongdoings, their past failures, and making sure that everyone would know about them. Then, we will not cast the first stone. In fact, if the requirement to cast the first stone is to be without sin, then we will have to cast it first at ourselves, sinners that we all are. Instead, we are to help our fellow sinners rise up and return to Jesus Who is always there to tell us, “Neither do I condemn you.”