Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent
God's Act of Loving Mercy, an invitation to become merciful ourselves.
In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees think they have Jesus trapped between God and Caesar. If Jesus authorizes the stoning of the woman, then He contradicts Roman Law, which forbade the Jewish people from administering capital punishment themselves. But if Jesus denies the Law of Moses, He would be going against the Law of God. So what does Jesus do? As usual, He moves the question beyond the misguided human fixation to the real heart of the matter—to the heart of God.
According to the Law of Moses, adultery was punishable by death. This is because the Law was intended to make people aware of their sins. If there was a sinless man in the crowd, then he, in justice, had every right to stone the woman under the Law. But the Law could not forgive sins. Only God could do that. There was only one sinless man in the crowd who could execute justice, and His name was Jesus. But instead of choosing justice, Jesus freely chose to forgive the sinner: “neither do I condemn you.” And we can be quite confident that the woman was forever changed.
In this way, Jesus, the Son of God, did not abolish the Law nor the Prophets, but rather fulfilled them: He did what the Law could never do. He forgave the woman’s sin by His own free choice: by an act of loving mercy.
In this Gospel, we see the whole life and work of Jesus in miniature. Our sins had merited death and eternal separation from God. But Jesus chose instead to offer us forgiveness. We did not and do not earn it. Yet in return for His mercy, all He asks of us is one thing: conversion of heart: “Go and sin no more.” In other words, Jesus is saying to the woman caught in adultery and to all of us: “do not forget what I have done for you. Let it make you meek, humble, and merciful yourself. Let this act of mercy make you become more like me.”
Fr. John Withlock
Saint John Vianney Seminary