Fifth Sunday Of Lent, March 25, 2007

Isaiah 43: 16-21

Philippians 3: 8-14

John 8: 1-11

Abandon your infidelity. Come back.

The story begins one morning in the Temple. All the people were drawn to Jesus and were coming to him. He sits down for he is the teacher and it is precisely for his qualities as teacher that he will be put to the test. Indeed, it is the Scribes and Pharisees, the official interpreters of the Law, who bring the woman whose sin cannot be doubted. According to the Law, adultery is punishable by death. (Lv 20, 10; Dt 22, 23-24). The woman in this Gospel was caught in the act. The case is clear, she should die.

The Scribes and Pharisees put the woman in the middle as if she were the center of the debate. But, in reality, they are baiting Jesus: if Jesus allies himself to the condemnation required by Mosaic Law, what will be the meaning of his discourse about a merciful God? And if he doesnt condemn her, he places himself in opposition to Moses. How is Jesus going to situate himself: in contradiction with the Law of Moses or in contradiction with his own teaching?

In order to get out of the confrontation, Jesus bends over and writes on the ground with his finger. This expression is found in only two places in the Bible: first, in Ex 31, 18 or Dt 9, 10 where the finger of God writes the Law of Moses on stone with which the woman should be killed. Then, in Dan 5, 5 to announce the condemnation of King Balthazar. Once in legislation, once in condemnation. Taking his turn, will Jesus condemn her according to the Law ?

Jesus sends his interlocutors back to their own condition as sinners and the result is that they all leave the tribunal! Jesus remains alone, with the woman still in the center of the scene, imprisoned by her sin. . Jesus then says the word that frees her and opens the way to a future for her : Neither will I condemn you. Go, and sin no more. This woman, who was defined by her sin, now has a new future before her.

What more can we say about this woman of whom we know only that she was an adulteress ? She remains anonymous and thus a welcoming figure for the sinners that we are In the Bible, the word adulterer often signifies the infidelity of the People of the Covenant with regard to God: (Jer 3, 8-9 ; Ez 16, 30-38 ; Jer 2). So the anonymous woman is the People in their relationship with God. We can understand why she was brought alone : God takes the place of the man. Jesus is face to face with the unfaithful woman, with unfaithful humanity, with what in ourselves is unfaithful. He does not condemn her but calls her to conversion.

Jesus does not reveal himself as those who consider themselves just would like as a God who punishes people according to their faults. He offers forgiveness that opens up a future. The woman understands this well for she addresses Jesus as Lord and indeed she has returned to her Lord. She will now take the road of fidelity. Forgiven, she can be born to a new life. Let us contemplate the tender face of God that Jesus reveals and, aware of our own infidelities and sins, let us receive the future opened to us, the new being that can be born in us.

-- Sr. Sophie Ramond, R.A.