Neither Do I Condemn You

handSome people like to be center stage. They are natural born entertainers who feed off and thrive on audience responses. Other people, like me, avoid this kind of attention focused on themselves. Might we surmise that the woman in our Gospel today was hardly happy about being center stage? Her life hung in the balance. How would Jesus respond to the challenge of the scribes and Pharisees? Hardly the way anyone anticipated!

The scribes and Pharisees wished to make this woman an example of her as a grave sinner deserving of death. Ironically, Jesus makes an example of them as sinners and they turned away from him and went away! Once they were faced with their own sinfulness and the futility of their test, they chose not to remain with the One who would grant them forgiveness and mercy, reconciliation and new life. The woman, however, remained with Jesus.  And for this choice, she received forgiveness, mercy, new life. [Living Liturgy 2010]

The center of this gospel is not the woman or her sin- it is  Jesus. He is the one who draws people to himself, teaches, challenges others about the truth of their lives, forgives, commands not to sin again. This is the same Jesus we encounter during Lent. This is the same Jesus who offers us forgiveness and new life.

Jesus did not imprison people by their past actions, but called them to the truth of who they were and the goodness within them.  He freed people from the death of their own sinful actions and offered to those who would remain with him new life.

The deepest truth about ourselves  lies not so much in recognizing our sinfulness as it lies in deepening our relationship with Christ. The closer we become to Christ, the more we recognize our own sinfulness and repent of our ways. Then we hear Christ say to us,” Neither do I condemn you.”

Musical Reflection

Sin No More

Who is the most honorable person you know? Why is this person so honorable?

What makes a person honorable? Great deeds and great commitments? Wisdom and humility? Trustworthiness and compassion? A great reputation? There are these and many other ways to define an honorable person. Striving for the right. The right way to act. The right way to live. This person is the opposite of the sinner.

What turns a sinner into an individual of honor? Presented with a sinner, Jesus turned the question of condemnation back on the honorable leaders of his community. And he gave the possibility of change to the sinner with a simple twist in his point of view.

In our Gospel today, the Pharisees challenged Jesus with a moral dilemma. The Jewish leaders pitted the fulfillment of God’s Law (tradition) against compassion (present need). If Jesus chose fulfillment of the Law, he would be seen as cold-hearted in the eyes of those he ministered to: the sinners. But, if he chose compassion, he would be seen as one who disrespected the Law and was “soft on” immorality; the general populace would renounce him and the leaders would have sufficient grounds to prosecute him. This was a tight “open and shut” case for the Pharisees and a losing situation for Jesus.

But Jesus chose an unexpected middle route; he acted apathetic by doodling on the ground and turned the question back on them. By giving the sinless permission to carry out the Law, Jesus caught the Pharisees at their own game. To throw a stone at this point would be the sin of pride. The persecutors would have the audacity to act in God’s place; this would be blasphemous in the eyes of the people, since no one was without sin. No wonder the elders left first in shame.

Possibly the greatest irony of the story could be found in the adulterous woman. The woman, caught in the act, stood before Jesus un-judged; that would be the way Jesus would leave the woman. Without judgment, the charge of sin could not be leveled against her, she was truly “sinless” in the eyes of the Lord. Jesus simply told her not to sin again.

Our encounter with Jesus brings hope.  In the invitation to repent, Jesus offers us new life. Jesus offers us new choices and opportunities to change. The work of Lent is to hear Jesus and respond by making choices that will lead us to new life.