(Adults, this is a difficult passage from the Gospels—for adults as well as children. In this reflection, I try to explain briefly why adultery is a sin, but focus mostly on the mercy of God—which is, I believe, the face of God the children need to see. If adultery has affected your family, please proceed carefully and gently with yourself and with your child. My prayers are with you.)
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus comes face-to-face with someone who has damaged relationships. Relationships are very important to Jesus because they are all about knowing. Knowing is the way of God.
Early in the morning Jesus came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them.
The Temple is the perfect place for Jesus to teach. It is the most holy place in Jerusalem because deep within the Temple walls is the Tabernacle, and in the Tabernacle is the presence of God. It is a good place to learn of the ways of God.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.
What is adultery? What did this woman do? She has been knowing a man in the way a wife knows her husband, but she is not married to this man. The man is married to someone else. He has been knowing this woman in the same way he knows his wife. Why is this a problem?
When two people get married, they promise to know each other so well—to look at each other so deeply—the way God knows us. In this gaze of love at each other, they know something of the love of God. This knowing comes into our world. What does this knowing do for our world?
Adultery, though, breaks the gaze of husband and wife away from each other. When they try to know another person in the way they know their husband or wife, their knowledge of God does not increase. There is only one God. Adultery breaks their knowing of each other. Adultery damages relationship—within a family and with God.
The scribes and Pharisees bring the woman to Jesus and say,
“Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
They want to see what Jesus will do about this woman who has broken relationships within families and with God. Will he say they should throw stones at her?! They seem really excited about this. Do they seem upset that relationships have been damaged? Do they seem concerned about knowing God? We wonder if they realize that here with Jesus in the Temple, they are in the presence of God.
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
This is a strange response. Jesus says nothing. We wonder why not. Does he not care about damaged relationships? Does he not care about knowing God?
The scribes and Pharisees do not like being ignored.
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Without sin? Without sin?? What does Jesus mean?
When our actions—what we choose to do on purpose—hurt our relationships with others, we sin. When we make choices that block the love of God from flowing through us, we sin. Sin is like putting our hand in God's face and saying, STOP—we are not interested in loving you right now. Sin is like trying to build up a wall between us and the love of God. Does that work? Does God stop loving us?
And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
Why does Jesus keep doing this??
When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders;
What do all the people realize? One by one, each of them realizes that they have sinned. Each one of them has made choices that have damaged relationships with God and within family. We wonder if they go home to try to mend those relationships.
and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
What does the woman feel, standing there in the Temple alone with Jesus? Just her, just him. We wonder if she realizes that here with Jesus, she is in the presence of God.
Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they?
Finally, he looks up. Jesus looks right at her. He sees her. He knows her.
Does he see her sin? Oh, yes. He sees her. He knows her.
Does Jesus hate her for her sin?
“Neither do I condemn you.
Jesus does not hate the woman. If he condemns her, it would mean he casts her away from the love of God. Jesus does not do that. He sees her sin, he knows her, and he keeps on loving her.
This is forgiveness. This is mercy.
The woman stands before Jesus and gazes into the face of mercy.
Does she know something now about the love of God?
How long does she stand that way, face-to-face with mercy? We do not know.
Eventually, Jesus says,
Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.
What does the woman do now? Does she commit adultery again? Does she go home to try to mend relationships? We are not told, but there is something that can give us a clue. By the end of the Gospel passage, how many people are standing together in the Temple? How, then, can we know this story about Jesus? Who is the only person who could tell us this story of his mercy? Someone who has looked into the face of mercy and known herself forgiven. Someone who knows something about the love of God.