BIBLE READING: John 8:1-11
This is a very interesting story today! The author John is very particular about what he writes - every detail he mentions has some special significance. So first let's get one distracting event out of the way.
What was Jesus writing on the ground? We don't know. But everyone likes to speculate about that. Ideas range all over the place, from simple “doodling” to writing down the sins of the accusers. One scholar suggests that maybe Jesus was imitating the actions of a Roman judge, who always wrote down his legal sentence before he read it aloud. Others think it was a symbolic act by Jesus, writing on the ground with his finger, which would remind people that on Mt. Sinai the covenant of love was written in stone by the finger of God (Ex 31). I personally think he wrote “Where is the man caught in adultery?”
Anyway, that “writing” action by Jesus is not the main message of the gospel story of the woman accused of adultery. Rather one of the main themes of the story is about conversion, and it has two main parts. First, it reveals the hypocrisy of the accusers; and then, it reveals the unconditional love of Jesus.
The generally accepted Christian definition of Conversion is the turning or changing from a state of sin to repentance.
Now, it is pretty obvious from John's gospel that the Pharisees and the Scribes had not been converted. They were soaked in their own self-righteousness, full of sinful pride in what they thought was their strict observance of a huge number of man-made rules and regulations. So they liked to “point fingers” at people they judged to be sinners. But “conversion” requires us to recognize and acknowledge our own sin, not the sins of others. Because of their blindness to their own sins, they were hypocrites. A religious “hypocrite” is an actor, one who pretends to have moral qualities that they do not possess, and their motive is always sinful pride. Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees; they condemned themselves by their own actions.
The second part of the episode contains the beauty of the story. The woman certainly expected to be judged, because of the hostility of the Pharisees. This was a serious offence: adultery was one of the “big” sins that merited death by stoning. Stoning, of course, was really “torture leading to death” because it took longer for the accused to die. But what happened instead? She received the experience of being set free, the experience of love from the heart of Jesus. When Jesus tells her to “go, and from now on sin no more,” she knows that she has been forgiven! No one has condemned her, not even Jesus!
This is what our God wants to do for us, also! He wants us to stop being hypocritical Pharisees, always judging someone else. He wants us to acknowledge our sinfulness, especially our judgemental attitudes. If, having examined yourself – you don't believe you hold judgemental attitudes, then perhaps you might be either a Saint or a Pharisee, I don't know...God knows. The key question to ask could be this, Are we are ready to welcome others as graciously as the father did, in the story of the Prodigal Son?
So we can both can experience the love of Jesus setting us free from our sins – and we can act like Jesus and show love and compassion to those who are struggling with their sins! The thing that got the Scribes and Pharisees got into trouble was that instead of leading sinners back to repentance and forgiveness, they judged them and focused on punishment rather than conversion and reconciliation.
If you are a disciple of Jesus, you will desire to do the things that he does. If you are condemning the world rather than saving it, who do you follow?
Acknowledgements: Fr Paul Rooney; Rev. Kenneth Collins