Fifth Sunday of Lent - 7th April, 2019

Liturgical Reflection

John 8:1-11

Woman Caught in Adultery

Scholars generally agree this account does not belong to the original John text.  Why did the early Church place it here?  The previous chapter John 7 relates serious confusion and division among Leaders, Scribes and people.  Was Jesus the Messiah or not?  He worked miracles, but Leaders said he ‘fooled’ only the ignorant.  They therefore devised a test case.

As one writer says: ‘the stones that the Mosaic Law prescribed were already heaped up in the hearts of the accusers and were ready to be thrown not at the offending woman (nor partner), but at Jesus.  The trap was to expose a sinner and an imposter.  It did that in unexpected ways. 

The woman employed was one who didn’t matter to them, one to be discarded anyway.  She was made to stand, probably naked before the accusers and would-be-killers.  Young, older, prostitute or not there was no concern at all for her as a human being.  She was simply bait for their sinful use.

Another sin is the Leaders’ attitude towards Jesus.  Theirs was not a search for truth, nor a call for Divine guidance in the ‘dilemma’, but a hunger to overcome Jesus and expose him as a sham.

It was the hidden third sin that took the crowd by surprise.  ‘Jesus bent over, silent, eyes fixed to the ground assumes the same stance as the woman.  He waits, calls for the one without sin to cast the first stone.  This is the real shaming and exposure.  Some semblance of conscience or embarrassment takes hold and no stone is thrown.  The dilemma disappears, the near-death becomes new life.

Jesus is gentle, he can look at the woman and see a person, she can look at him without fear.

So why is it inserted into this Gospel?  Writers suggest that a strand within the Church was getting too prescriptive, too focussed on external practice, sin and exclusion.  Just as Mosaic law was not meant to be written on stone, but written on hearts, so the Good News of Jesus is about Love and Life as this account portrays.

Today our Church needs to reflect that while it has been preaching morality – sexual ethics, justice, personal standards etc – there has been in our midst a terrible hidden sin of sexual abuse.  Maybe even some stone throwing.  Why are men and women still excluded from the Eucharist because they are in a second marriage?  Why are some children denied Catholic schooling because parents are not seen regularly at a particular Mass?  Why are gay people unwelcome in some of our Churches?  Where is the tenderness of a Church of Jesus that looks with love not stones of blockage or penalty?

Francis said ‘Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.’  To me that sounds like ‘Neither will I condemn you. ‘

Sr Helen Ryan OP