My Dear People,
Early in the morning on the next day, Jesus went into the temple area, where he attracted a crowd. While he was teaching, the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery. Although the Torah prescribed an investigative test for suspected cases of adultery (Num 5:12-31), there is no ambiguity here: this woman is unquestionably guilty. They made her stand in the middle as one accused of a capital crime.
The woman’s accusers address Jesus as Teacher and claim, This woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. According to the Torah, adultery is a capital offense, and Deut. 22:22-25 prescribes stoning for both the man and woman involved (see also Lev. 20:10). Since the woman is unquestionably guilty of a capital crime, the answer should be straightforward: she should be stoned to death. But they ask Jesus, So what do you say? not to administer justice (notice that the adulterous man is nowhere to be found) but to entrap Jesus. If the scribes and the Pharisees can corner Jesus into taking a stance against the law, then they will have some charge to bring against him (see 5:45: Matt 12:10; Acts 24:2).
The meaning of Jesus’ nonverbal response—he bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger—is unclear. It could simply be a sign of indifference, showing that he refuses to be drawn into this trap. Another possibility is that Jesus’ gesture is a subtle allusion to Jer. 17:13, which literally reads, “O Hope of Israel, O Yahweh, all who abandon you will be put to shame, those who turn away will be written in the earth because they have abandoned the Fountain of Living waters.” By writing on the ground, Jesus would be reminding the woman’s accusers that they too were sinners subject to God’s judgment, sinners who refuse Jesus’ invitation to come in faith to him, the “Fountain of Living waters” (Jer. 17:13; John 7:37).
After the scribes continued asking, Jesus straightened up and said, Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. According to Deut. 17:6-7, the witnesses who testify to the guilt of an accused person in a capital case are the ones who begin the execution. The scribes and Pharisees are the woman’s accusers. But Jesus reframes the issue by calling attention to the accusers’ own sinfulness. While the particular sins may differ, both the woman and her accusers are sinners and stand guilty before God. Jesus thus exhorts the accusers to reject self-righteousness and embrace genuine humanity, which is to recognize the truth about oneself before God and with respect to others (see Matt 7:1-5; Luke 6:41-42). After pronouncement, Jesus once more bent down and wrote on the ground.
After hearing Jesus’ words, the woman’s accusers went away one by one, beginning with the elders. Their motives in leaving are not clear. Perhaps they realized that their plan to entrap Jesus had failed. Or perhaps Jesus’ words touched their hearts: they acknowledged their own sinfulness and had a conversion of heart. After all departed, Jesus was alone with the woman before him.
Jesus addresses the woman and calls attention to the fact that all her accusers are gone. The woman acknowledges that no one is left to condemn her, and Jesus replies, Neither do I condemn you. As he did to the formerly paralyzed man in 5:14, Jesus tells her to change her ways: Go and from now on do no sin anymore. Jesus offers this woman a fresh start in turning away from her sins and opening herself to God’s infinite mercy.
Jesus wants us to acknowledge our sins and have a conversion of heart. This is why Jesus came to transform people—so that they can be saved. Lent is a great time for transformation. There is a great opportunity to acknowledge our sins and repent and go to confession so that we can receive the grace of God.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente