FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT (2019)
If the woman “caught in adultery” in today’s gospel reading from John had the foresight to write a screenplay, she might have entitled it “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to My Stoning.” The nameless woman of the gospel had to be extraordinarily fearful that the arrogant and hypocritical religious men who dragged her into the presence of Jesus would be successful in stoning her to death in fulfillment of the Law of Moses. She surely was unaware that the Scribes and Pharisees were using her to “test” Jesus “so that they could have some charge to bring against Him,” and she understandably might have assumed that this religious itinerant preacher from Nazareth would do nothing more than help to gather stones. She could never have imagined how lucky she was that she was dragged into the presence of the Savior of the World.
The woman no doubt felt that her biggest mistake was getting caught, for there is no indication in the gospel that she viewed herself as a sinner. Indeed, she likely did not view the men trying to kill her as sinful, since they were merely doing what the Law of Moses proscribed. But her encounter with Jesus teaches her something about sinfulness, and gives her a glimpse of what divine mercy looks like.
Jesus appears to stall in John’s story by bending down and writing “on the ground with his finger.” The persistence of the Scribes and Pharisees who were not about to leave without an answer, causes Jesus to stand and address them: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Like the woman, the religious leaders had not given much thought to their own sinfulness. But Jesus’ words to them make them pause, and as uncomfortable as they were with the notion of considering themselves sinful, they, nevertheless, were forced to come to grips with their humanity. The acknowledgement of one’s sinfulness is the prerequisite of genuine conversion.
The crowd slowly walked away “one by one,” until Jesus “was left alone with the woman before Him.” Was the woman surprised that a few words by Jesus would cause the previously inflamed crowd to put down their stones and walk away? We will never know. Neither will we know whether she did as Jesus told her: “from now on do not sin anymore.” What is safe to assume is that her encounter with Jesus changed her life for the better, and instilled in her a desire to be like that man from Nazareth who appeared to be so close to God. Further, she would never be like those self-righteous men who were quick to judge others, but were incapable of seeing themselves as they were seen by God. We might say, indeed, that a funny thing did happen to the woman caught in adultery, for her encounter with Jesus on the way to her own execution did not end her life. Rather, the woman was granted the opportunity to live her life to the fullest in the way that God intended.
This Fifth Sunday of Lent reminds us that “the Lord has done great things for us” and “we should be filled with joy.” We are reminded, as the adulterous woman was reminded, that God does not condemn us. He came into our world that “we might have life and have it more abundantly.” He came into our world to show us, who so often get lost in sin, the way back to the Father. Our encounters with Jesus, in our personal prayer and in the sacrament of the Eucharist, remind us that we have been “delivered from the hands of our enemies” and made righteous “through faith in Jesus.” All of us are laid low by our sinfulness, but God raises us up by His unconditional love and forgiveness. May that cause us to live our lives in such a way that others may see in us examples of what the unconditional love and mercy of God can accomplish.