for Sunday, April 3, 2022
What a scene we have depicted in today's gospel. It is amazing how the
Gospel writers, John particularly, but all the evangelists, are able to paint a complete
scene in just a few words. There are the characters: the woman caught in adultery, the
accusers, the scribes and pharisees, and Jesus, the Compassionate Savior. There is
the motivation of the scene: the desire to make Jesus look bad, paint him as opposing
the Law of Moses. There are the props: the stones and the finger writing in the dirt.
Usually we refer to today's Gospel as the Woman Caught in Adultery. We could
also call it the Gospel of the Forgiving, Compassionate Lord. Or we could call it the
story of People Who Hold Stones.
We really do not know who this woman was. Tradition holds that it was Mary
Magdalene, who went on to become one of Jesus' closest followers. Mary Magdalene
is often united with Martha's sister, Mary of Bethany. Perhaps that was her, or perhaps
this was another person. Jesus was often accused of associating with tax collectors
and prostitutes. The gospels were not concerned with individuals, they were
concerned with presenting Jesus' message, the message of the Kingdom. I like to
think it was Mary Magdalene, though. That is the tradition of the Church. When Mary
Magdalene was first mentioned by name, she was called the woman from whom Jesus
cast out seven devils, a woman who had thoroughly been in the grasp of the devil. All
four Gospel present Mary Magdalene at the crucifixion and as the first one who
experienced the Resurrection.
Of course it is possible that the woman of today's Gospel was someone else.
The only thing that matters is that the woman who stood before Jesus was a sinner.
Having been caught, she was both terrified and humiliated. She was terrified because
the Scribes and the Pharisees had the law on their side saying she had to be killed.
She was humiliated because her private sin or sins had now become public. Her
accusers made her stand right there in the middle of the crowd. Embarrassed and
disgraced, she might have thought that she would be better off dead.
That is what sin does to people who still have a conscience. That is what sin
does to me, and to you. When we do something that is very wrong, we wish we were
dead. Many people just give up. They say, "I've destroyed myself, why bother with
changing? I'm going to hell, anyway." People who have ruined their marriages with
affairs, their lives with substance abuse, or their world's with anger, will hear the voice
saying that there is no use trying to change. That is the voice of despair. The devil
uses this voice to achieve his goal: the destruction of God's people. The voice of
despair is the voice that led Judas to hang himself. It is the voice that rejects the
presence of the Compassionate Lord as healer and forgiver. It takes humility to
recognize our human frailty and seek forgiveness and strength from God. Judas did
not have this humility and gave in to the forces of despair. Peter was humble enough
to seek forgiveness. How about the woman who stood before the Lord? Well, the
Gospel says that she remained with Him after the others left. She had the humility to
seek forgiveness. And she received forgiveness. Mary Magdalene never left the Lord.
She was present at his crucifixion, and she was the first one present at the
The scene could also be called the Forgiving Compassionate Lord. When she
was dragged before Jesus, the woman may have thought that she was alone in a world
that was humiliating her and that wanted her dead. But then she had an experience of
God's love and compassion. She realized that she was not alone. Jesus wrote on the
ground. What did He write? We do not know. Maybe He just scribbled a little to give
the accusers time to think about their own sins. Or maybe he wrote something for the
woman to read. I like to think that He wrote, "I love you."
The One who would be forsaken by all except that very small group who stood
at the foot of the Cross would not abandon this woman. That is why she could not
abandon him. She was transformed, transformed from a sinner into a virtuous
woman, a follower of the Lord. Of all the people the Lord had contact with, thousands
and thousands, He picked a repentant criminal dying on the cross next to him, the one
we call Dismis, to be the first to join him in Heaven. And he picked Mary Magdalene,
most likely the woman caught in adultery, to be the first to experience his resurrection.
Jesus chose her not because she had been a sinner, but because she he lov ed her
just as he loves you and me.
Jesus will not abandon us. He loves us too much to leave us to our own
devices. The Compassionate, Loving Lord is more concerned with each of us as
individuals than with the results of our sins. We just have to recognize our sins and do
our best to fight off sin in the future. That is all he wants for us to be cleansed, to be
The story of today's Gospel could also be called the Story of the People holding
Stones. Those scribes and pharisees thought they had righteous anger. They were in
full huff. They had the Law of Moses on their side. They had everything and everyone
on their side justifying their actions. They had everything except love. They had
everyone agreeing with them except the Lord. Like the Elder Brother of the Parable of
the Prodigal Son, their anger resulted in their excluding themselves from the Banquet
of the Father, or, in this case, the Presence of the Lord. They walked away rather than
drop their stones and remain before Love Incarnate. It was not righteous anger that
was motivating them. It was hatred, hatred for Jesus.
Like them, we have often let hate remove us from the presence of the Lord. We
claim that we have reason to hate. We say we can justify our anger. We have been
hurt. Someone whom we love very much, our spouse, our child, has been attacked.
We can justify anger, but we cannot justify hatred. Unless we let go of those stones
that we are holding, we cannot and will not stand before our Loving, Compassionate
Lord. We have to let go and let God take control. The scribes and the pharisees
refused to do this and walked away. How about us? Is our hatred more important than
our remaining in the presence of the Divine Lover? God help us! May God give us the
courage to conquer hatred.
A woman caught in adultery. Scribes and pharisees wanting to use her to trap
Jesus into rejecting compassion. The Lord Himself who would not be manipulated.
What a drama!
There are tremendous reflections on everyday life contained in today's simple
Gospel. Jesus is the One who will never abandon us. And His presence in our lives is
infinitely more important than the stones of hatred we might be holding. In fact, the
stones we hold actually hold us, hold us back from the Lord of Life.
At times, we are that woman, caught, maybe not in adultery, but caught in our
sins. At times we feel overwhelmed by the weight of our own sins. At times we feel
surrounded by people who know what we have done and are sickened by it. At times
we are so upset with ourselves that we cannot look others in the face. We are forced
to look down. As we look at the ground we need to realize that there is a hand there
writing something in the dirt. It is the hand of Jesus, and He is writing, "I love you."
Then we need to listen to His voice saying to us, "Go, and sin no more."
We pray today for the humility to seek and to accept forgiveness. We pray for
the gift of living in the presence of the Compassionate Savior.
Readings of the day:
First Reading: Isaiah 43.16-21
Second Reading: Philippians 3.8-14
Gospel: John 8.1-11
This material is used with permission of its author, Rev. Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino, Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL. Visit his
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: