This past Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we once again heard the Gospel passage about the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). She was thrown in the dirt, cursed and condemned; a reminder of the division and destruction of sin. The Mosaic Law called for her stoning and many people stood over her willing to end her life. Jesus very calmly and deliberately approaches the situation. He knows full well the force of anger and hatred which lies in hearts grown cold. He asks who among the crowd is without sin, for they may cast the first stone at the woman’s body. It’s a reversal and calls all of us up short in periods of anger and condemnation in our own lives. This is not some notion of tolerance, rather, it is a reminder that judgment for sin rests with God alone. This section of Scripture is also a glimpse into the New Law which is found in Christ. The New Law in which mercy, charity, and true justice reign supreme.
There are times when you and I are the people holding stones ready to strike. We get caught up in the emotion, tumult, and passion of a situation and desire our own form of justice. We believe, whether consciously or not, that we are better than this woman and so we have a right to be her judge. Instead, what we have done is fallen into grave sin ourselves. We have hardened our hearts and forgotten the serious sins or even the daily venial sins in our own lives, which are the cause of Our Lord’s death on the Cross. Jesus is reminding us of His mercy and that He requires our mercy. Proper justice cannot be exercised without charity and mercy in mind.
At other times, we are the woman caught in adultery. I don’t necessarily mean we are adulterers, but we might have committed a sexual sin, pride, envy, avarice, idolatry, theft, anger, etc. which can be just as destructive or even more so, as adultery. It is no secret that our culture is obsessed with sexual sin, but in reality, while these sins are grave matter within the proper situation, anger and pride can be even more deadly. In those moments of sin, we often feel internally like this woman. Our sins may not be as “public”, but they still reverberate throughout the Mystical Body and the world.
The contaminating influence of sin spreads not only through the body but is also further extended and reinforced through the structures of society; the economic, political, and cultural institutions are –to varying degrees and in various ways—all deformed by sin.
Roch A. Kereszty, O Cist, Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology, 347
Whether we are aware of the full impact of our sin or not, when we come to the realization of our sins once again, we begin to understand the need for mercy. When we sin and make ourselves the Absolute, we often forget our creaturely state and our total dependence on God. We must then throw ourselves at the feet of Our Lord seeking mercy with contrite hearts. He extends that mercy to each one of us every time we ask and this should serve as a reminder for our need to extend mercy to our fellow Fallen human beings. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, as Our Lord tells us on the night He was betrayed (Mark 14:38). We are all weak in different areas and need grace in order to continue on so we may begin anew when we fall again and again.
Sin distorts reality and God for each one of us. That is why hearing Jesus say, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more” can come as a complete surprise to many. It is sin that drives human beings to condemn and harm one another, but God’s love is to extend mercy to the repentant sinner. Sin alienates us from God, ourselves, and one another. It is only through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross that this threefold alienation can be healed through faith.
Sin has affected our nature so deeply that only the author of nature, God, can create us anew.
Now the Catholic Church teaches that we are wounded, but not utterly deprived due to the Fall, so we still have an innate understanding of goodness within us, but our battle with concupiscence can distort that goodness so we seek lesser goods than God. Since our sin causes so great an alienation, battle, and offense it is only God who can redeem us and extend true mercy.
If our sins offended God in his fatherly love by refusing the of being a child of God, then it appears very appropriate that the only Son of God should become incarnate and as a human being offer to God that unique filial love which God the Holy Father deserves; only then can we, through faith, unite ourselves to the Son and offer “through him, with him, and in him” the love and honor the Father deserves to receive from us.
We cannot save ourselves. In our battle with concupiscence we will either end up with rock in hand or lying in the dirt. It is clear the adulteress woman, as well as each one of us, must come to terms with the destructive nature of our sin and come before Christ in contrition seeking His love and mercy. Our Baptism is only the beginning of our struggle on the path to holiness. Christ will extend love and mercy every single time we ask, but we must ask. As we learn to accept His mercy, we can better extend it to others. We sin daily. Not one of us has a completely clear conscience except for the few moments after we walk out of the Confessional. Our sins are destructive to ourselves, others, and impede our relationship with God. That is why Christ extends mercy to us and tells us to continue anew. He knows we are weak, but He will continue to guide us to Him as long as we seek Him.
Sin also hardens our hearts towards others so Christ teaches us to look to ourselves first. We must attain holiness and strive towards perfection. If we focus so much on the sins of others we become blind to our own sin and run the risk of taking ‘the wide path to destruction.’ In this Gospel passage, Christ gives each of us the much needed rebuke so we may put down our own stones and extend mercy to others. We do not know if tomorrow we will be like the woman caught in adultery laid bare through sin before Our Lord. Conversion is a daily struggle.
This passage teaches us much about the Christian life. We are called to have hearts of “flesh” filled with love and mercy, with a proper understanding of justice. We are called to be filled with sorrow for our sins, to seek forgiveness, and to sin no more. The latter is a life-long journey, but is an essential aspect of this narrative. This is not a blanket acceptance of sin; this is the story of our own lives. We fall, we recognize the pain of sin, we run and fall at Christ’s feet through Confession, he heals us, and asks us to continue on the path to holiness. In those times we find ourselves either in the crowd or on the ground as the condemned sinner, we must realign and fix our gaze on Christ. We must learn to see as He sees and love as He loves in order to grow deeper in conformation to Him. Are we throwing stones right now? Are we struggling with sin? Are there areas where we see major divisions within our families, parish communities, or other areas of society? Division is a sign sin is at work. If so, then we must place ourselves at the foot of the Cross and seek His healing mercy. If it has been a while, or even if it has been a week but you are struggling with habitual sin, go to Confession to once again hear: “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” I know I need to hear these words from Our Lord often.