In today’s Gospel, we read about how Jesus addresses the woman caught in adultery. Some scholars argue this story is apocryphal, coming in later New Testament manuscript traditions, and was therefore not part of the inspired writing of St. John. Others think it belongs in a different Gospel, perhaps in St. Luke. There are good reasons to leave it at this juncture in St. John. One of them being the story seems to fit, given the escalating tensions between Jesus and the Pharisees and the thematic connections to the fifth chapter.
I believe part of what is happening in this situation is a gross miscarriage of justice, which foreshadows the unjust trial of Christ. St. John does not tell us much of the backstory of the incident. But knowing what we do about Jesus’ opponents, we can ask certain questions. For example, how was it that these men caught the woman in the act of sin? Seems like a trap. Where was her male counterpart? Why did they circumvent the normal process of a trial, presenting witnesses, and so forth? The death penalty under the Mosaic Law was not to be arbitrarily meted out. There was a system of justice and it was being completely ignored for the sake of trying to ensnare and bring disrepute upon Jesus.
Of course, the Lord knew these things. Perhaps He was writing down precepts of the Law on the ground. Or, maybe He was writing down the sins of the woman’s accusers. His words then cut to the heart “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The accusers slowly melt away. There is a powerful lesson here. Before we start seeking out sin and fault in others, before we start finding that speck in our brother’s eye, we must remove the large beam in our own eye. Our sense of justice is perverted by sin. We are quick to accuse and point the finger at others, and very slow to admit our own faults. We run at full speed to the well of divine mercy and then seek to trip our brother when he runs to it.
In this passage, we witness the tender compassion of the Lord Jesus. This hearkens back to the reading before today’s Gospel. Ezekiel 33:11 says “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord, but rather in his conversion, that he may live.” The first move of the Pharisees in the John 8 reading was to condemn. Mercy was not on the radar screen. They believe they are vigilant in upholding the Law (or at least are presenting outwardly under that guise). But Jesus shows them they are missing the heart of it, the very meaning where God desires us to be merciful as He is merciful. Where He desires us to love and repent. A quick thumb through the book of Exodus confirms this in spades, the Lord continually pardons the Israelites despite wanton rebellion.
We also see a foreshadowing of our final judgment one day, where it will be us and the Lord. We will come face to face with our maker, the perfectly just One who knows everything we ever did. There will not be anywhere else we can look to place blame for our transgressions. Only Him. This may seem like a dreadful thought. Let us not shrink back from thinking about it, though. We have a very plain reading today about the heart of Jesus that is tender and merciful. He does not stand eager to condemn. Far from it. He takes pleasure in our conversion. This mercy is constantly on free offer to us. He pours it upon us like rainfall. We cannot run or hide from it. Each day His mercies are new. We need only say yes to Him. Divine love wants to swallow us up. We can feel and experience the exactly same thing as the woman in the passage today. Completely forgiven.