In the Gospel reading at Mass this weekend, we have another example of God’s overwhelming love and forgiveness: the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. Jesus’ opponents, the scribes and Pharisees, brought an adulterous woman before the Lord, and demanded, “In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So, what do you say?”
It’s obvious the scribes and Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus. They didn’t particularly care about the woman, or the Law of Moses, or that justice was served. Their only motivation was to force Jesus into a no-win situation so that no matter what He said, they could use it against Him.
If Jesus replied that the woman should be set free, they could accuse Him of ignoring the Law of Moses. If Jesus replied that the woman should be put to death, they could accuse Him of being hypocritical about His message of forgiveness.
At first, Jesus said nothing. Instead, He bent down and started writing with His finger on the ground. This is the only place in the Bible that records Jesus writing—but we’re not told what He wrote. (Can you imagine if Jesus had a Twitter account? My goodness, things would be quite different.)
I’ve often speculated about what Jesus wrote. Maybe He wrote down the name of the man who committed adultery with the accused woman. And maybe this guy was standing right there in the crowd clutching a stone. Jesus finally looked up and offered the famous line, “Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Then, as the angry throng pondered those words, Jesus bent down and started writing again. Maybe at this point He wrote the names of the leading Pharisees’ mistresses. No one knows for sure. But we do know how the crowd finally responded: “They went away one by one, beginning with the elders.”
After everyone left, Jesus said to the woman, “Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she answered.
Jesus then said, “Neither do I condemn you.”
At this point in the story, many people nowadays stop reading. It’s just so comforting to know that no matter how we behave, Jesus says to us, “Neither do I condemn you.”
But that’s not the end of this story. Jesus concluded by saying to the adulterous woman, “Go, and sin no more.”
This statement confirms that Jesus has not abandoned the concept of right and wrong. Certain things are right, and certain things are wrong. There is a HUGE difference between righteousness and sinfulness. Such a huge difference, in fact, that Jesus came to earth specifically to bridge the gulf between holy God and sinful mankind.
If you’re ever tempted to think Jesus does not take sin seriously, just remember why He died on the cross. Jesus offered up His sinless life as a ransom for our sinful lives. He died to pay the price for our sin. His Passion and death occurred for one simple reason: Jesus takes sin seriously—deadly seriously.
Jesus also takes love seriously. So much so that He offers forgiveness to people who don’t deserve it: the Prodigal Son, the adulterous woman, me, and you. A person who can look up to Heaven while being tortured to death and say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” is a person who takes love very, very seriously.
Next weekend is Palm Sunday. As Lent draws to a close, let us focus on Jesus and His overwhelming love for us, and the overwhelming forgiveness He offers to us. Let’s make this year’s Easter celebration the most holy and joyful ever.