The Woman Caught in Adultery, Homily

Homily, Mar 12-13, 2016: Cycle C, 5th Sunday of Lent (Stone the Woman Caught in Adultery)

On this 5th Sunday of Lent, I’m sure we all realize that next Sunday is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. So we are fast running out of time to accomplish all the things we hoped to, on this journey through Lent. Time to double down.

Our readings today give us a sense of things changing. In The First reading from Isaiah, we hear the prophet say, “Remember not the things of the past…See, I am doing something new!”  (700 years before Jesus)  He is giving the Israelites a view of the future, of God’s plan. He asks them, “Now it springs forth, do you perceive it?”

As we move into the Second reading from Paul to the Philippians, we see that some of the changes are taking place through the coming of Jesus Christ. Paul describes how totally he has committed to Jesus as an example to us to examine our relationship.

He continues the thought of the first reading to Remember not the past when he says, “Forgetting what lies behind, but straining forward to what lies ahead”.

I think both of the readings are grouped together here to prepare us for the radical changes Jesus brings into the world as shown in our Gospel today.

This story from John’s Gospel is the story of the Scribes & Pharisees bringing the woman caught in the act of adultery before Jesus, to trap Him.

Here’s the trap: The Romans had taken away from the Jews their permission for the Jews to use capital punishment. All capital punishment was reserved for the Romans alone.

So, if Jesus answered, “Yes”, she should be stoned as the Law required & the first to cast the stone had to be one of the accusers – a Jew, he was going to be in big trouble with the Romans.

If Jesus answered, “No”, she should not be stoned, then he was violating the demands of the Law of Moses, and thereby lost all credibility with the Jews.

Obviously, there were politics at that time like today and the leadership felt threatened that Jesus was usurping their hold on power. Hmmm, sounds just like today.

So, here we have Jesus trying to move ahead with the completion of the Law while they are looking backward at the demands of the letter of the Law.

By the way, this particular story is referred to by scripture scholars as a controversial story, for a variety of reasons.

For example, the Scribes & Pharisees reminded Jesus of the Law’s demand that this woman be stoned to death. But the Law, in fact, in Leviticus & Deuteronomy says that both the woman & the man should be stoned. Where is the man?

Others argue that this story was likely not included in the first writing of John’s Gospel, that it was added later.

Some discuss other endings besides the classic that we have today where Jesus stumps them all by saying, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

At which, they all slipped away as Jesus no doubt scribbled their sins in the sand. Then Jesus said to the woman, “Has no one condemned you…Neither do I condemn you…Go and sin no more.”

Isn’t it interesting and aren’t we proud that Jesus’ words to the woman are mirrored by Pope Francis who recently stated that he would not condemn someone when the media tried to trap him.

Now, let me try out a story ending on you that I think would be more in line with Catholic doctrine. You can be a “Focus Group”.

Let’s say that when Jesus spoke those classic words about the “one with no sin throwing the first stone”, indeed, a stone was thrown from the outer fringes of the group and landed at the woman’s feet.

At that point, I suggest that Jesus stood, scanned the crowd, spotted the person He was looking for and said, “Oh, mother please.”   (Sorry…see, doctrinally, Jesus’ mother was without sin). So much for you guys being a focus group.

Lent is a good time for us to take a hard look at ourselves. It is a good time to stop rationalizing how we really don’t sin. Really? Do we condemn others? Do we judge others? Do we engage in Schadenfreude when bad things happen to people we don’t like?

Certainly there are times when we must make a decision, and if not judge, then at least ‘inspect the fruit’, so to speak. But judging is a serious action. Rarely is it redemptive for us or for others.

There is a segment of our society that we invest the right to Judge.

And the graphic of the poor woman being hauled before the crowd and accused and humiliated should absolutely haunt us. It certainly shows us how not to treat others, literally and figuratively. Our heart should go out to this woman, sin or no sin. Jesus’ heart surely did.

If we are serious about trying to become more like Jesus Himself, then His words in today’s Gospel should show us the way.

Jesus is calling us to change to the point where concern for the sinner is at least as strong as concern for the letter of the Law and the punishment it demands.

That idea is only a few clicks away from anarchy. It is radical as Jesus is radical. Radical or not, it is His call to us. Love the sinner, if not the sin. That’s what He does with us.

So, on this 5th Sunday of Lent with a little over a week remaining, let us increase our efforts, adding more prayer, more scripture, more almsgiving.

Then when we arrive at Good Friday and Easter we will feel like we have done our best to prepare for those great celebrations and all they stand for.