Gospel Reading: Jn8:1-11
Vs.1 Jesus went to the mount of Olives.
Vs.2 At daybreak, he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.
Vs.3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody,
Vs.4 they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery,
Vs.5 and Moses has ordered us in the law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?’
Vs.6 They asked him this as a test looking for something to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger.
Vs.7 As they persisted with their question, he looked up and said, ‘if there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’
Vs.8 Then he bent down and wrote on the ground again.
Vs.9 When they heard this, they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman who remained standing there.
Vs.10 He looked up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’
Vs.11 ‘No one Sir,’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus, ‘Go your way and do not sin anymore.’
John 8: 1-11
This famous story of “the woman caught in adultery” is not found in the oldest manuscripts of John’s gospel and Biblical Scholars are not sure why it was left out. It is a radical and challenging passage that has at its heart compassion. It’s the story of the Scribes and Pharisees coming face to face with their own sin; it’s the story of a loving, compassionate Jesus; and it’s the story of a vulnerable woman coming face to face with love. We come to this gospel with great reverence, remembering that so many people have been touched by it. We enter into the story, recognize that this passage lives again, and in that recognition we meet God alive and at work in our lives and in our world today.
Where did this happen?
This happened in the precinct of the Temple in Jerusalem after Jesus had left the Mount of Olives.
When did it happen? It happened at daybreak. Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles or Shelters – a feast when the Jewish people remembered how their ancestors lived in tents in the wilderness. It was in the final days of the life of Jesus. There was a growing atmosphere of confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish authorities.
Who was there?
The people – the growing number who are being drawn to Jesus by the strength of his message.
Scribes and Pharisees -. They are powerful people, the Scribes were experts in Torah Law and the Pharisees were well known for their observance of the Law. Jesus’ growing popularity was posing a threat for them and they were determined to find something to use against him and bring him down in the eyes of his fellow Jews. They have absolutely no feeling, regard or care for this woman and merely use her for their own agenda – to have Jesus either condone the stoning and in doing so contradict his whole message of mercy and compassion, or set her free and be considered guilty of disobeying the law and be branded as a renegade..
Jesus- He is perceptive, courageous, fearless and compassionate in every moment of this encounter with all parties, with the woman and with scribes and Pharisees.
The woman – in the culture of the time she was regarded as the property of her husband. Her sin of adultery according to
Mosaic Law was punishable by stoning. She is vulnerable, humiliated and terrified until she has an encounter with profound love.
In V2 we are told that “all the people” came to him and “he sat down and began to teach them” – Jesus, as on so many other occasions, meeting people on level ground, meeting them with openness and respect and giving them the opportunity to engage with him..
V3 shows the callousness and cruelty of the Scribes and Pharisees – this woman is a nobody for them, a person of no consequence. Humiliated and embarrassed she is made to stand in full view of everyone. They have no real interest in her, they want to use her to get at Jesus.
Vs4-5 – they quote the Law of Moses. If he goes against the law of Moses it will be seen as a direct violation of the Torah. If he advocates stoning not only would it undermine everything he has stood for up to now, or indeed, fall foul of the Roman authorities who insisted that capital punishment was their prerogative only.
V6 – Jesus knew what was in their minds. By writing on the ground he withdrew from the ugliness and violence around him, from the heat of the moment and the torrid accusations. He responded with compassion and love and did not speak out of anger at what he saw.
V7 – “they persisted” –Stirring up a violent atmosphere by demanding an immediate answer.
V8- He went to a quiet place within himself – into the presence of the Father in prayer – and as a result he was able to respond in a deep and wise way – “if there is one of you who has not sinned let him throw the first stone.” By resorting to writing on the ground again he gave them time to come to terms with their own sinfulness and their self-righteous condemnation of this woman.
V9- “they went away one by one” – having been jolted into the realization of their own hypocrisy, they go away humbly. The eldest sees it first. This is a moment of grace coming through their encounter with Jesus. They were blind to their own shortcomings but now they see the truth in themselves and it marks the possible beginning of a journey of repentance.
V10 – 11 – Jesus engages respectfully with the woman. “Has no one condemned you, neither do I condemn you. Clearly, he feels for this woman, for her humiliation and embarrassment-she has suffered. But this is no soft and sugary Jesus- “Go away and don’t sin anymore.” Sin does matter. Sin damages personal integrity and our human dignity. But in treating her with respect and reverence he challenges her with a gentle admonition. He has a deep understanding of how to challenge – it comes from a place of respect and love. In the depth and beauty of his humanity Jesus reveals to us the God who forgives, hopes and never gives up on us- he is a God who never stops loving. The woman comes face to face with the truth of that love.
This gospel is a lesson in love, respect, mercy and compassion -“an ocean of sin meeting an ocean of love and mercy” (St Augustine).
The emancipation of this woman is yet another powerful instance of the liberating work of God as celebrated in the first exodus “when the Lord delivered Zion from bondage (todays psalm), but as the Prophet Isaiah reminds us, in the first reading this work is ongoing in the story of the Jewish people, and fully incarnated in the life and ministry of Jesus – “Behold I am doing a new deed. Even now it comes to light. Can you not see it?” Is 43:17.
The second reading from St Paul to the Corinthians (3:8-14) continues the Lenten theme with its emphasis on personal growth, growing in the image of Jesus. Paul recognizing that although he has made progress there is still some way to go -“I am far from thinking that I have already won”.
Guidelines that might be of some help for meditation.
Can we identify people who have been able to keep their cool in the face of animosity and hostility because they have a deep interior life? – ‘He bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.’
Can we recognize someone like Jesus who has been so perceptive that he can put his finger on the root of the problem – ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned let him be the first to throw a stone at her,’ and has been fearless and courageous in pointing it out to others?
When have we been or seen the Jesus person who does not condemn but shows compassion, respect and reverence for a sinner, ‘Neither do I condemn you!’ and therefore in a position to challenge someone to grow, ‘Go your way and sin no more?
Can we remember an experience of sin, shame and guilt when we met somebody who respected us and accepted us, ‘Woman, where are they?’ and because we felt cared for we were enabled to grow?
When have we tried to bring someone down or to discredit them in any possible way, ‘they asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him,’ and we have come to realize now that it was out of jealousy or hatred, and we are more humble and vigilant as a result?
When have we been or seen the scribes and the Pharisees, callous and condemning of others, ‘making her stand there in full view of everybody,’ until we were brought face to face with our own self-righteousness and experienced a call to repentance? – ‘And they went away one by one beginning with the eldest.’
Continuing the Lectio Journey
Let the prayers of thanksgiving, repentance and petition flow from your meditation – ideally these are expressed in our own words interlaced with words from the passage. (See introduction to Lectio stages.)
Let the rich silence of God’s presence grow and deepen as we journey to a prayer of no words and no images – simple presence to the presence of God. (Contemplative moment – see introduction).
We reflect on our experience of the work of God in the passage and in life until a truth or some truths emerge – new insights into life and love – which can be savoured and celebrated in prayer as they release their life-giving power in us, moulding and shaping our minds and hearts and bearing fruit in our lives. (Wisdom Moment – see introduction).