We all know the story of Our Lord’s encounter with a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. Her accusers brought her to him because, as usual, they were trying to trap him in his doctrine. The laws of those days prescribed that a woman like that should be stoned to death. Jesus advocated mercy and forgiveness. What would he say in this case? He said nothing. He was probably seated on the ground in the temple compound, and he simply leaned over and began to write in the dust with his finger. Was he simply doodling—waiting for them to leave so that he could go on with his teaching? Certainly, when something is important, you don’t write it in the dust on the ground. He was showing his indifference to their conniving. They wanted to kill the woman, and to trap Jesus in a contradiction. But they wouldn’t leave him alone. They demanded an answer. So he looked up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” A brilliant answer, which manifests Christ’s wisdom, his refusal to condemn the woman, his refusal to call the law of Moses too harsh, his refusal to be made the judge in this unofficial trial. His answer leaves them totally confused and aware of their own malice. So, they simply vanish, leaving Our Lord with the sinful woman. She is now in the presence of her savior—both temporally and eternally. He asks her gently, “Where are your accusers? Is none left to accuse you?” “She answers simply and briefly, “No one, Sir.” “Then neither do I accuse you. Now go, and don’t sin any more.”
Father Marie-Joseph Lagrange, one of our outstanding French Dominican scripture scholars, in commenting on this episode, points out that it fulfills the words of Psalm 85: “Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.” A sinful woman confronts our forgiving Redeemer. Her human accusers want to kill her and to trap him. She is terribly frightened, thinking that she might well be near death because of her sin, and deeply humiliated by having her sin proclaimed publicly in the temple area. But when the episode ends, Jesus has certainly not been trapped; the woman is alive, and free to go her own way, the malicious ones are slinking off in shame and confusion. Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss in the thought, the words, and the actions of Jesus. And we have the deep joy of knowing that he is our savior, too, and we can expect the same gentle mercy as the adulterous woman received, if we are truly repentant. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown., O.P.
Note: Father Brown composed this message some years ago.