Today’s Gospel tells us the story of the woman caught in adultery. There are several noteworthy things going on in this passage.
First, we must recall that there was a system of justice in ancient Israel. The Mosaic Law provided for adjudication of disputes and the dispensation of justice. They had a defined process with lawyers and judges much like we do today.
Secondly, it takes at least two people to commit adultery. The Law of Moses held that both parties to such an act were liable to punishment. Therefore, it is very curious that, if this woman was legitimately being accused of adultery, there was also no male counterpart. Selectively choosing only one party from this scenario smacks of a deliberate set-up or arbitrary (perhaps chauvinist) legal process.
Third, the Law also said that an accusation could only be brought with two or more witnesses. It was not enough to simply work off a hunch. Part of the rationale for this, I believe, was protecting justice from vendettas. Another aspect was probably legal efficiency. Accusing someone of a capital crime was a serious matter. You could not simply bring charges against a person with scant evidence and clog up the court system. Trials took time, money, and resources.
Turning back to the passage, what we see happening is a rank injustice being perpetrated against this woman. It could have very well been the case that she did commit a grave sin, what would have been a criminal act at the time. However, one injustice does not necessarily beget another. If she did commit a crime, then there was a due course to be followed.
What Jesus point out, perhaps in what He wrote on the ground, was that the scribes and Pharisees not only paid a great deal of lip service to the spiritual aspects of the law, but they did the same thing with the civil aspects of it as well. To set up the situation they did, trying to catch Jesus in some teaching contrary to the Law, required them to violate several points of the Law they supposedly held so dear.
Jesus has no truck with injustice. He is not playing the game the scribes and Pharisees are trying to play. God is perfectly just. No doubt Jesus knew they were testing Him. He would not take the bait. Let us take up the same attitude of Christ when confronted with temptations to injustice, no matter how small they seem.
At the end of the passage, Jesus tells the woman that she is not condemned. Certainly, this is instructive and a wonderful act of divine mercy. It is instructive because we see divine justice in action. Only God can forgive sins and remove the attending condemnation wrought by them. Importantly, Jesus also says “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” While forgiven, the heaviness of sin and turning away from it is ever-present. God is always calling us back to Himself, drawing us upward and away from the mire of sin. Being free from its shackles enables us to move on, leaving the past behind and embracing a future life patterned after Jesus.