A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Jesus and the adulteress

Can you imagine what was going on in the mind of the woman in today’s Gospel? (John 8:1-11)  Here she was standing in the town square, virtually surrounded by men who were ready to stone her for having committed adultery.  She possibly thought, “What happens to the guy who was with me?  Why am I taking the whole blame?”   The reading also tells us the Jesus was present.  It turns out that the scribes and Pharisees were more interested in entrapping Jesus than in the woman herself.  Quite likely, jealously could have been a motive.  After all, Jesus was attracting more people.

So, the test question was posed.  “Teacher, this woman was caught committing adultery.  Now, in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone her.  What do you say?”  If Jesus sided with the woman, he would be violating the Mosaic Law.  If  Jesus ordered the woman stoned, he would be in trouble with the Romans who alone had the powers of life and death in legal matters.  “Ah,” thought the perpetrators, “we have him trapped.”

How did Jesus handle this?  First, he squatted down and started writing in the sand.  What he wrote no one knows.  Perhaps it was a series of sins that the group with stones in their hands may have committed.  Anyway, it was a bit of reflective reaction.  The group of men most likely saw the writing and possibly thought, “Hey, that’s me.”  I suspect that others present knew about the private lives of all who were there.   Still, the potential stoners wanted an anwer to their question.

Second, Jesus stood up to answer the question. There was a pause.  Then Jesus said,   “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Wow!  What a zinger.  All the people present had a good idea who were the thieves, liars, bullies, and so on.  Thus, one by one they dropped their stones and left.

The woman and Jesus were left alone.  “Has no one condemned you?” Jesus asked.   “No one,” she replied.  Jesus compassionately looked at her and said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and sin no more.”

I’m sure we can pick up many lessons from today’s reading.  But I would like to suggest one, namely, the manifestation of COMPASSION.  Compassion comes from the Latin which means “to suffer with.”  This suggests  that compassion does not mean “to feel sorry for” which indicates a passivity, but rather “to suffer with” which advocates activity.

For example, God had compassion on his suffering people, so he sent his son to be with us, that is, to be in our midst.  This is the significance of the mystery of the Incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas.  It is also part of  the promise of “Immanuel” (Hebrew for “God with us”).  Then, there is the situation of Jesus who had compassion on us by dying and rising from the dead, thus giving us hope that with every suffering there is a resurrection.  This is the significance of the mystery of Easter

Then, there is also “human” compassion.  We become actively involved in situations of injustice (to others or to ourselves) wherever and whenever they occur in order to bring about justice.  Remember, we don’t “feel sorry” for others or ourselves, but we do “manifest compassion” as Jesus did to the woman taken in adultery.

A depiction of Jesus and the woman taken in ad...

A depiction of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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