Sunday Gospel Reflection, Fifth Sunday of Lent, the Woman Caught in Adultery (and the Pharisees caught in their own trap)
The Pharisees in today’s Gospel not only intend to stone the adulterous woman, they hope to “kill two birds with one stone.” Their hidden motive is to “find some charge to bring against Jesus.” Jesus responds by cleverly inviting them to examine their consciences.
During Lent, the Church invites us to examine our conscience thoroughly and make a good confession; to step out of the Pharisee’s shoes and step into those of the adulterous woman. Ironically, in this Gospel passage, the Pharisees learn that both shoes fit.
Pharisees will be Pharisees
What is the purpose of the Law, if not to keep people in order? Well, another often overlooked aspect of the Law is that it should teach. For instance, in this Gospel passage, the Pharisees bring to Jesus’s attention the penalty for a woman caught in adultery, namely, public stoning.
Christ takes advantage to show them the Law’s uncanny ability to teach simple lessons. One who is eager to apply the strict measures of the Law should also be prepared to have those measures applied to oneself: Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. (And we all live in glass houses).
Once the Law is applied uniformly, as it is in today’s Gospel, the New Law is revealed — the heart of the law of forgiveness and mercy.
Unfortunately, the Pharisees do not stay around for this powerful message, and therefore, do not have the blessing of experiencing Christ’s mercy in the way that the adulterous woman does (yet they could have).
Because she remained humbly and stood alone in Christ’s presence, she received that blessing first hand. Anyone can have this gift. The forgiveness and mercy we all need and desire is freely given in the sacrament of confession.
By focusing on the evil other people do, we often blind ourselves to the good things they do. We forget that everyone, including ourselves, suffers hardship, and therefore that we all desperately need compassion and mercy. Pharisees miss out on the beauty of Christ’s teaching.
“Blessed are the merciful, they will be shown mercy,” is meant for all of us.