Homily for April 3rd, 2017: John 8:1-11.
The people who come to Jesus in today’s gospel, dragging with them a young girl caught in adultery, are whipped up and excited. They are out to put Jesus on the spot; and they think they have found the perfect means. The Jewish law in such a case was clear. A woman guilty of adultery must be stoned. They demand that Jesus take a stand.
His first response is silence. Throughout Jesus remains calm and relaxed, in full command of the situation. Stooping down, he begins to write on the ground. Perhaps Jesus is embarrassed. Or maybe he is filled with indignant shame that religious leaders could act so heartlessly.
And heartless the woman’s accusers were. The Scripture scholars say that she was probably a young teenager. Whatever her age, her accusers have no interest in her at all. Her accusers were really interested in one thing only: setting a trap for Jesus, “so that they could have some charge to bring against him,” as John tells us.
When they insist that Jesus give some answer, he speaks the well known words: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus’ challenge strikes home. When all the accusers have departed, leaving Jesus alone with the terrified girl, the condition he has set for her condemnation is fulfilled. Jesus is without sin. If anyone was entitled to condemn her, he was. He refuses to do so. Instead he offers her God’s mercy and the chance to begin again: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
Jesus is not saying that sexual sins are unimportant. Against sin Jesus was uncompromising. With sinners he was compassionate. And with none was he more compassionate than with people guilty of the so-called sins of the flesh. The only people with whom Jesus is severe in the gospels are those guilty of spiritual sins: hard-heartedness, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, pride.
Those were the sins of the girl’s accusers. To her Jesus extends God’s mercy. This alone could give her hope, challenging her to turn from a destructive life of sin to a constructive life for God and for others – which is the only way to fulfillment, happiness, and peace. Jesus offers us the same challenge today.