Nor Do I Condemn You
5th Sunday of Lent (C)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

Where was the man? That was the question that came to my mind when I read the story about the woman caught in adultery (Jn.8:1-11). If the woman was caught in the act, then the partner should have also been caught and brought to judgment. There seems to be a double standard at work here. These righteous men caught the woman who could not escape easily. Nothing was said about her partner in adultery. Although we cannot speculate about what was not said in the Gospel, the omission of the man leaves us thinking about the standards of the day.

Action starter: Anyone you condemn? Look hard into yourself.

Jesus too must have been thinking about the religious leaders’ readiness to condemn the woman to death as the Mosaic law required (Lev. 20:10). Already, they have shamed her by letting her stand in front of everyone. However, the scribes and Pharisees were caught in a bind. As guardians of the Law, they must impose the death penalty, yet they could not do so openly because only Rome could inflict the death penalty (Jn. 18:31). The woman could still be stoned if a lynching mob develops. The crowd (mostly men) only needed a little push towards this direction. And so they decided to bring the matter to Jesus. In a way, they were passing the burden to Him. Jesus was also caught in a dilemma. If He decides to be merciful as He has always taught, then He would be acting against the Jewish Law. On the other hand, if he publicly imposes the death penalty, then the Romans would arrest Him.

The leaders were insistent. The crowd was waiting for the go signal. Jesus poured water on the group’s ardor to stone the woman by saying, “Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her.” And one by one they left the place. Only the woman remained, still waiting for the rest of her sentence. Jesus pronounced the good news. “I do not condemn you. You may go. But from now on, avoid this sin.”

Wasn’t the Lord being lax on matters of the law? Wouldn’t people be more prone to wrongdoing if they could escape punishment? Laws serve a purpose. Laws bring order to society. As the saying goes, “Dura lex, sed lex.” The law is hard, but it is the law. Without laws, society would be in chaos.

Jesus did not directly challenge the harshness of the Mosaic law -- death for the adulterer. He took another tack. He challenged the crowd’s attitude to easily condemn the sinner. He was showing the crowd another way, not that of punishment but that of reformation or conversion.

Our concepts of crime and punishment have gone a long way since the time of Our Lord. Adulterers are no longer given the death penalty. Petty thieves are no longer hanged nor have their fingers cut off. In the modern halls of lawmaking there are always debates about the punitive and reformatory aspects of laws. Jesus was way ahead of His times.

Last Sunday’s gospel about the Forgiven Son finds its echo today in the story of the Forgiven Woman. We have always known these stories as that of the Prodigal Son and the Adulterous Woman. Love has transformed them.

All is not lost for the sinner or even the convicted criminal. There is always forgiveness and conversion. This is the message of Lent.