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A woman caught in adultery

Gospel Reading: Jn 8:1-11

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.

They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

The scene in the Gospel is full of suspense. How will Jesus respond to the demand of the scribes and the Pharisees to decide on the fate of the woman they have accused of committing adultery? They want to test Jesus, but in reality they contradict themselves. They claim they caught the woman “in the very act of committing adultery,” yet they did not bring out the man. How can the woman commit adultery alone?

In the Old Testament, any sin against God is an act of adultery or infidelity (cf Hos 2:4ff; 3:1ff; Jer 3:9; Ez 16:1ff).

Jesus handles the case with wisdom. He does not pronounce judgment, neither on the woman nor on the scribes and the Pharisees. Rather, he appeals to the conscience of the woman’s accusers. It turns out that the scribes and the Pharisees implicitly accept that they, too, are sinners.

The story concludes with only the woman and Jesus left in the scene. Although Jesus does not condemn the woman, he tells her, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” St. Augustine comments, misery and mercy have met. Jesus wipes out misery and grants mercy.

A concrete expression of mercy is not to condemn but to give a person the chance to become a better Christian.

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