- John 8:1-11
- A Woman Caught in Adultery
OTHER HOMILY SOURCES from Fr. Martin Hogan
2020 30th March (2020)>> Fr. Martin’s Gospel Reflections / Homilies on John 8:1-11 for Monday, Fifth Week of Lent: ‘Neither do I condemn your’.
Monday, Fifth Week of Lent
Gospel (Europe, Africa, New Zealand, Australia & Canada)
John 8:1-11 ‘Let the one among you who has not sinned be the first to throw a stone’
John 8:1-11 Let the person without sin be the first to throw a stone.
(i) Monday, Fifth Week of Lent We all have to deal with human weakness and moral failure both in ourselves and in others. The gospel reading raises the question as to how moral failure is to be dealt with. The religious authorities who bring the woman to Jesus deal in the currency of condemnation when it comes to moral failure. They invoke the authority of the Jewish Law which condemns the act of adultery. They test Jesus to see whether he will go along with the Jewish Law in this matter, thereby undermining his reputation for mercy, or whether he will reject the Jewish Law, thereby showing himself to be in defiance of God’s Law. Jesus’ enigmatic response, bending down to write on the ground, shows that he refuses to engage with this situation in the terms put to him by the religious authorities. Jesus’ concern is not whether or not the woman is deserving of condemnation, but rather that she be free for a new life that reflects God’s desire for her. Jesus’ searing proposition to the woman’s accusers, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’, stops the woman’s accusers in their tracts. Jesus is the only one who is without sin, and he is not in the business of condemning the woman. Who are sinners like the woman’s accusers to do so? Once the accusing men have slunk away, Jesus looks directly at the woman for the first time and addresses her personally. Jesus’ declaration to her that he does not condemn her and his call to her to go away and sin no more show that his entire concern is to rescue her from her terrible plight and set her free for a new direction of life. None of us is without sin. Yet, the Lord is not in the business of condemning us for our many failings. His primary desire is that we live in a way that is worthy of our dignity as sons and daughters of God. He came to show us the way that will be truly life-giving for ourselves and for others and to empower us to follow that way and to keep returning to it after we have failed.
(ii) Monday, Fifth Week of Lent In the gospel reading the Pharisees who brought an adulterous woman to Jesus were suggesting a simple answer to her moral failure. Condemn her to death by stoning. The gospel reading also makes clear that this was not Jesus’ way of dealing with moral failure. He understood that the situation was far more complex that the Pharisee’s crude and simplistic solution allowed for. The men who brought the woman to Jesus saw her only in terms of her immediate past. Jesus’ way of looking at her was far more generous; he saw the whole picture of her life, not just one little bit of it. Seeing the whole picture of her life, he also saw that she had a future, a future that those who brought her to Jesus would have denied her. When the Lord looks at us he sees the whole picture too; he does not become obsessed with one or two details of the picture. He hears the full story of our lives, not just a couple of lines of our story. The Lord knows that our story is unfinished, and will only be complete when he himself comes to transfigure our lowly bodies into copies of his glorious body.
(iii) Monday, Fifth Week of Lent The religious leaders who brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught committing adultery seem to have had a very black and white view of things. As far as they were concerned, they were good and she was bad. Furthermore, the bad needed to be eliminated to protect the good – they reminded Jesus that death by stoning was what the Jewish Law prescribed. Jesus was reluctant to engage these men in conversation at all, but when he did speak, his brief comment cut through their primitive analysis, and showed it up in all its inadequacy, ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone’. Jesus was reminding them that the sin which they so despised in the woman was alive and well in themselves. When they pointed one finger at her, three fingers were pointing back at themselves. They could not look at her without looking at themselves, and if they looked honestly at themselves their attitude to the woman would have to change.Jesus did not deny that the woman had sinned, but he strongly denied that her sin made her any different from anyone else, including those who were so sure of their own virtue. The gospel reading reminds us that we all come before the Lord as sinners, but it assures us that when we bring our sin to the Lord we will not hear a word of condemnation.Instead we will hear a word of forgiveness and an invitation to something better: ‘I do not condemn you; go away and don’t sin any more’.
(iv) Monday, Fifth Week of Lent It is clear from this morning’s gospel reading that the religious leaders are very much in the business of condemning. They bring a woman to Jesus expecting him to condemn her, because, as they say, ‘Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this’. Earlier in his gospel, the fourth evangelist had placed a very striking saying on the lips of Jesus, ‘God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’. Jesus did not come to condemn the world but so that it might have life and have it to the full. When Jesus asked the woman the question, ‘Has no one condemned you?’ he immediately declared, ‘Neither do I condemn you’. He gently reminded those who were quick to condemn her that they too were sinners. We all have something to repent of. To all of us Jesus says what he says to the woman, ‘go away and don’t sin any more’. The Lord does not condemn us but, in his love for us, he calls us beyond where we are; he continually invites us into a greater light and a fuller life.
(v) Monday, Fifth Week of Lent The story of Jesus and the woman caught in the act of adultery is one of those gospel stories that we find ourselves drawn to. The portrayal of Jesus in the story is one that we that stays with us. We are struck by the contrast between the way the scribes and the Pharisees relate to the woman and the way that Jesus relates to her. The religious leaders have condemned her of a serious breach of the Jewish Law, one that is worthy of the prescribed punishment, death by stoning. Jesus, however, refuses to condemn her; ‘I do not condemn you’. As the evangelist, John, says a little earlier in his gospel, ‘God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’. Rather than condemning her, Jesus pardons her and calls her to a way of life more in keeping with God’s purpose for her life. We may not have sinned in the way the woman sinned, but we are all sinners. We all come before the Lord as people who have not lived in accordance with God’s will and purpose for our lives. The reading assures us that when we come before the Lord in our sinfulness, we will not hear a word of condemnation, but a word of forgiveness. ‘I do not condemn you’, and also an invitation, ‘Do not sin anymore’. Condemnation comes easily to human nature. Thankfully, it is not in the nature of Jesus or of the God whom he reveals.
(vi) Monday, Fifth Week of Lent The men who brought the woman to Jesus saw her only in terms of her immediate past, while being blind to their own past. Jesus’ way of looking at her was very different; he saw the whole picture of her life, not just one little bit of it. Seeing the whole picture of her life, he also saw that she had a future as well as a past, a future that those who brought her to him would have denied her. When the Lord looks at us he sees the whole picture too; he does not become obsessed with one or two dark details of the picture. The Lord is attentive to the full story of our lives, not just to a couple of lines of that story. He also knows that the story of our lives is always an unfinished story. It is the Lord himself who will endeavour to write the final chapter of that story when, in the words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he will come from heaven to transfigure our lowly bodies into copies of his own glorious body. Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord says, ‘I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future full of hope’. The Lord offered the woman, and offers all of us, a ‘future full of hope’. He can offer us such a future because, again in the words of Paul, ‘his power at work within is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine’.
(vii) Monday, Fifth Week of Lent There are three characters in this morning’s gospel reading, Jesus, the woman and a group of male experts in the Jewish Law. The group of men brought the woman to Jesus to test him. They were using her against him. It was Jesus who was in their sights rather than the woman whom they claimed was caught in the act of adultery. They were of the view that if Jesus was to be faithful to God’s Law, he should condemn the woman. If he didn’t condemn her it would confirm their view of Jesus as someone who broke God’s Law and was, therefore, a sinner. Jesus did not fall into their trap. He gave himself time by writing distractingly on the ground with his finger. When the group persisted, Jesus issued that striking challenge, ‘if there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’. They had brought the woman to Jesus as a sinner; they were of the view that Jesus himself was a sinner. Now Jesus faces them with the reality of their own sin. Their walking away was their acknowledgement that there was no one among them who had not sinned. We are all sinners; we just sin in different ways. We can never set ourselves up as the moral superior of others. Jesus did not condemn the woman. Yet, he did call her to live in a new way, ‘go away, and don’t sin any more’. Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus said, ‘God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’. The Lord’s instinct is not to condemn but to call us and empower us to take a path which will lead us to a share in God’s own life, both now in this earthly life and in eternity.
Fr. Martin Hogan, Saint John the Baptist Parish, Clontarf, Dublin, D03 AO62, Ireland. Retrieved 2020.03.30