Introduction: Today’s liturgy focuses on leaving the past and beginning something new. This idea is heard in all three readings. In the first reading we hear God say: “See I am doing something new.” It speaks of God forming a people for himself. The second reading speaks of something new in knowing “Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection.” The Gospel has Jesus offering a sinner a chance to reform and live newly.
l) It is interesting to reflect on when we most often hear these words of Jesus: “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” Usually when a politician or business person has been caught doing something wrong we hear, “let…” This expression of Jesus has become a watchword for those guilty of some offense and caught. A variation on this is the expression “those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
2) One of our Priests said he can’t hear this Gospel without thinking about the variation of this story told about Jesus. It is a little bit irreverent. For Catholics we hold that Mary was conceived without sin and remained sinless. So as the story goes, Jesus says the words: “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” Suddenly a stone comes whizzing by. Jesus turns around and says, “Mother please.”
3) But onto the more serious aspects of this Gospel. In this brief passage there are three main actors: the scribes and Pharisees, the woman and Jesus. With whom do we most closely identify? We are to be sure sinners, like the woman. Adultery is only one sin a sexual sin. That may or may not be our area of sinfulness. It is interesting how we hear this story. Most people think this woman is a prostitute. And yet there is nothing in the story to indicate that. She may have been a married woman. We assume that this was her life style, adultery. But it might have been the first time that she committed adultery. It may not have been. Some commentators speculate that her husband set her up to be caught.
4) Of course the question asked, usually by women, is why isn’t the man also brought before Jesus. Do we have here another example of the double standard? The woman is standing before Jesus and everyone. St. Augustine says, “misery and mercy.” She is confronted with her sinfulness. She is caught. She is also silent before her accusers. Her only words are in response to Jesus question. She hears Jesus not ignore her sin, but not ignore her, nor condemn her. “Go. But from now on, avoid this sin.” She is challenged to change her life. What do you think is the end of the story for the woman? Do you think she changed. I do. The experience of being forgiven is a powerful experience. But interestingly enough even though Jesus forgave her, she might not have been able to forgive herself. It is entirely possible that her husband couldn’t forgive her. This would be especially true if this wasn’t her first time. You do have to wonder what happened to her.
Some times we do things and aren’t able to forgive ourselves. Some times we do things and others aren’t able to forgive us. Some times things happen to us and we aren’t able to forgive God. In the story of David and his son by Bathsheeba (2 Samuel l2:l5-35) his Son falls deathly sick. David mourns him sorrowfully. But David is able to forgive himself, to forgive God, to love his wife, conceive another child, Solomon.
5) But we must face the painful truth that perhaps the people we are most like in this story is not the sinful woman but the scribes and pharisees. Are we constantly accusing people? Do we in our conversations condemn and bring to light the sinfulness of others?
Do we have to be rebuked by Jesus? Do we have to slink away? Notice that John says: “then the audience drifted away, one by one, beginning with the elders.” So being part of a mob scene, being condemnatory, being unforgiving is not limited to any particular age group. At least the elders have the wisdom to see themselves confronted by Jesus. They didn’t have the wisdom of age, not to condemn, but at least they move away first.
6) But similar to Last Sunday’s Gospel there is a further challenge.
Last Sunday we examined ourselves for similarity to the younger son, the sinner or the older son, like the Pharisees. Again we have a sinner and the scribes and Pharisees. But we also have Jesus. The challenge is not only to accept the forgiveness of Jesus for ourselves. This we should do. But the challenge is that Jesus is offered to us as an example of the kind of person we should be. We are to be forgivers as Jesus was. In this Gospel he is forgiving and not condemning. He not only forgives the woman, but it would be implied he forgave the scribes and pharisees as well. He not only did not condemn the woman, but notice the gentle way that he rebuked the scribes and pharisees. We are to be like Jesus. We are confronted with a tremendous challenge here. To live newly this way we must be grasped by Christ and know the power of his resurrection as Paul says from prison to the Philippians.
To do something wrong and to be loved and forgiven is a powerful experience. We sometimes say: “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” But we sometimes use this as an excuse. Well I did wrong, but I’m only human. That’s right but that’s only half the truth. To forgive is divine, but that is the challenge of being a Christian, to become like Christ, to forgive. With forgiveness we can be either on the giving end or the receiving end. Words like, Please forgive me aren’t in some of our vocabularies. Words like, “I forgive you,” aren’t in some of our vocabularies.
Yes we are forgiven. Jesus paid a tremendous price for our sins. But we cannot be his followers and not forgive our neighbor whom we can see and who needs forgiveness and say we love God whom we cannot see. We must be forgiven and forgiving. We need God’s help.