The Gospel for this Sunday reveals the salvation that Christ has brought to us. It begins like this: “Early in the morning, he came again into the temple, and all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.” Jesus’ coming to the temple early in the morning signifies the coming of a new grace. And then he sat among them. We know the Jerusalem temple is the replication of Heavenly Jerusalem. Today’s Gospel tells us in the introduction that the Son of God, who came from heaven to save humankind, is now with men on earth. Moreover, all the people who came to him depict the depth of the salvation that he brought.
What the Pharisees and scribes do in the temple, even though it is meant to trap him, turns out to manifest more concretely the salvation Jesus brought to us. Let us meditate on it carefully.
The Pharisees bring an adulterous woman before Jesus and ask his opinion on whether she should be stoned to death according to the law of Moses. On the one hand, if he says, “Don’t stone her, let her go”, he can be accused of violating the Law of Moses. On the other hand, if he says, “Stone her to death” in the Jewish temple, in a very public place, he could also be accused of violating Roman law because the Roman law took away the authority of the Jewish leaders to execute anyone.
But Jesus was silently writing on the ground. Jesus’s writing on the ground is a sign of the fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jeremiah prophesies: “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron. O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake thee shall be put to shame; those who turn away from thee shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water. (Jer 17:1,13)
So, Jesus performs a sign of judgment against the scribes and the Pharisees, who have rejected him, the fountain of living water.
Then Jesus stood up and told them a judgment that should reverberate in our ears before every judgment we make: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” So the trap that they set for Jesus sprang back upon them. Now either they have to stone her or confess that they are sinners. Later, we read that they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest. Finally, Jesus said to the woman: Go, and sin no more.
What we see in this Gospel is the saving mission that Jesus brought to us. He came to save us with mercy. God’s mercy is not a licence to sin. He did not tell the woman that you go and do as you like. But he said go and sin no more. So mercy is not just pity. It is not just pardon, but it is the power we need to go forth and do what we could never do on our own and what we failed to do right before.
Then naturally, one can doubt the sin and the punishment. What is sin? Will God punish? What is the punishment? The best way to understand sin is to understand our planet earth. We find life on earth only because it keeps some natural laws and stays at a position that makes life possible. On the other hand, if the earth moves away from the sun, the source of life, it freezes and becomes lifeless. Similarly, if we move away from God, the source of divine life, by transgressing the divine laws, we will definitely become lifeless. So spiritual death is not God’s punishment, but it is inherent to sin. As the earth becomes lifeless not because of the sun’s punishment as it moves away from the sun, so too man, when he turns away from God, naturally comes the spiritual death. So sin is auto-destructive.
Any father who loves his child raises the child in the discipline. It is for the child’s good. Actually, it is the father’s mercy, and there is no animosity towards the baby. The worst thing a father can do to his baby is to let the baby live as he likes. So the threat of death as the result of sin is the mercy of God upon us. Because the goal of God’s mercy is to lead us to repentance. (Rm 2:4) So God’s mercy is the power and the door for anyone who likes to come back to life. Notice the prophecy of Isaiah: “Come now, let us reason together: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Is 1:18)
Yes, “God never tires of forgiving us, but we sometimes tire of asking Him to forgive us. So the first lesson of today’s Gospel is to trust in God’s infinite mercy and prepare for a new life with repentance so that God may write our names in the book of life and not on the dirt.
Secondly, the Pharisees and the woman caught in adultery are symbols. This woman represents Israel and mankind and every one of us and our unfaithfulness to God. This is because the Scriptures depict the relationship between God and Israel through marital relations. Moreover, Christ reveals Himself as the divine Bridegroom. So, to understand better the saving actions of Jesus, we need to see Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary and the institution of the eucharist in the light of a marriage covenant. This Sunday, just before Holy Week, is preparing us for that. So the woman who was caught in adultery was a people who followed other gods, such as money, gold, and worldly pleasures, and disobeyed God’s covenant.
Now what happened to her will happen to each of us sinners. What happened to her? The Pharisees bring her before Jesus and ask him to judge. The scribes and the Pharisees here in the Gospel are an image of the devil. The devil is the accuser of our brothern, day and night before our God (Rev 12:10). Yes, every one of our sins gives the devil authority over us and an opportunity to accuse us day and night before God.
So, dear ones, today’s Gospel puts two possibilities before us. Either we can live as an image of the devil by condemning our brothers and sisters, or we can live as an image of God by being merciful towards our brothers and sisters and start a new life free from sin by relying on God’s mercy.