The Gospel readings on the Sundays of Lent have been about repentance and preparation for the Resurrection of Jesus. Today we have a real story from John’s Gospel, the woman caught in the act of adultery.
The context in John is the Mount of Olives and the preparation for the Passion. That is a Lenten theme. Jesus is teaching in the Temple and the Scribes and Pharisees together conspire to trap Jesus with an unanswerable question. They humiliate this poor woman (note no male offender!), make her stand there in front of everybody. They said to Jesus, “Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery and Moses has ordered us to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?” It is a catch 22. You are wrong if you say “Yes’ and you are wrong if you say ‘No”.
We know well the story of Jesus writing in the sand. What did he write? The simple answer is we do not know! Did he just scribble meaningless words? We do not know. Did he write their sins? That hardly sounds like Jesus. We do not know. His words cause a gradual dismissal in order of seniority, the oldest first. Everybody has gone. Only Jesus and the woman remain. No one would throw the first stone!!!
I love this part of the story. I point out especially the respect that Jesus has for the woman. He calls her ‘woman’. This is a special word in John’s Gospel. John uses it a few times. At Cana to his mother, to the woman at the well and to his Mother from the Cross. It is a special word of respect. I think it is fair to say that the woman in the story picks up this notion of respect very quickly. She calls Jesus ‘Sir’. Remember her answer: ”No one Sir”. I suspect that she was extremely outraged with her accusers. We do not know anything about conversion or repentance in the life of the woman. But we do know that there was respect. Respect earns respect. Names and titles are important. Who knows how the story ends? Where there is respect there can be love. Jesus leaves the door open.
Take into the week and into Holy Week the great words: “Neither do I condemn you, go away and sin no more”.