Making Sense of Sensus Catholicus (mar9ssc.htm)

Wednesday
March 9, 2005
vol 16, no. 68

The Woman Taken in Adultery

While the Pharisees tried to trap Our Lord, Jesus gave them enough rope to ensnare themselves. Christ clearly shows He did not come to condemn, but to counsel sinners to sin no more!

by
Father James F. Wathen

      "By His knowing stare, the Lord has looked into the heart of each and into his past. And each is aware of his own sinful self. Each is forced to acknowledge to himself that their sinfulness is much worse than that of the woman. Hers is a sinful act, theirs is a sinful state; she has fallen into sin, theirs is an abiding condition; she is weak, they are thoroughly perverse."

    On the Saturday before the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the Gospel tells the story of the woman taken in adultery. This was a dramatic episode, and St. John presents it in a way that we can fully appreciate how it must have effected him. This event took place immediately after the Feast of Tabernacles, six months before the death of Christ.

    John 8:1-3: And Jesus went unto mount Olivet. And early in the morning He came again into the temple: and all the people came to Him. And sitting down He taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees bring unto Him a woman taken in adultery: and they set her in the midst.

    We may imagine all that preceded this scene. First, the Scribes and Pharisees, possibly during the days of the Feast, when they ought to have been reflecting on the meaning of the Feast, the Children of Israel, having been led out of Egypt by Moses, are safe now in the desert, dwelling in tents, but knowing nothing of what is in their future. Instead, they are behind closed doors, scheming against Christ again. They imagine that they have a perfectly terrific idea, one that is sure to confound our blessed Savior and disillusion the people toward Him.

    Second, in order for their plan to work, they must pass the word to their agents, spies, and informers about the city. They must make sure to catch the woman in the act, and bring her in at once. Maybe the woman has been apprehended just the night before. It is now early morning, since Jerusalem is a busy city and there is much activity from early morning till dusk. It is not without the greatest satisfaction that this crowd of Pharisees drag the woman into our Lordís present, interrupting His address to the people sitting and standing around Him; their business with Him is always more important than His with others.

    We picture Christ with the woman before Him. She, bowed over, gazed at by all the people, too humiliated to raise her head. The Pharisees, standing, demanding.

    8:4-6 And said to Him: Master, this woman was even now taken in adultery. Now Moses in the law commanded us to stone such a one. But what sayest Thou? And this they said tempting Him, that they might accuse Him. But Jesus bowing Himself down, wrote with His finger on the ground.

    We do not know whether our Lord wrote words or just made meaningless movements (like "doodlings") with His Hand. He does what He does first out of embarrassment for these vicious men, whose hatred of Himself will drive them to any measure. They are confident that they have confronted Christ with an inescapable dilemma. If He does not concur that the woman should be stoned, He will be putting aside the law of Moses, which will scandalize the people. It will call for punishment for Him also. If He does agree to the stoning, He will destroy His image of the gentle Teacher in their eyes.

    No doubt to add force to His next words, the Lord continues to move His Hand over the surface or the temple floor. He delays deliberately, extending the time, when no one says a word. The Pharisees grow impatient and finally speak, insisting upon an answer from Him. As Jesus gives His answer, He slowly eyes each of the womanís accusers, looking into the eyes of each with the knowledge of them that only God can have. Only then, does He stoop down again and avert His eyes from them and the woman.

    8:7-8 When therefore they continued asking Him, He lifted up Himself and said to them: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." And again stooping down, He wrote on the ground.

    Now the gaze of the people is on neither Jesus nor the woman, but on the Pharisees. The tables are completely turned. The silence is deafening. Everyone waits for one of them to do something. Then occurs what has never occurred nor will again occur in the scriptural record: each of the Pharisees now acts act according to his own conscience. By His words, Jesus has isolated each of them from each other; usually their unity is their strength and their cover. Each now feels himself exposed, found out, put on display.

    By His knowing stare, the Lord has looked into the heart of each and into his past. And each is aware of his own sinful self. Each is forced to acknowledge to himself that their sinfulness is much worse than that of the woman. Hers is a sinful act, theirs is a sinful state; she has fallen into sin, theirs is an abiding condition; she is weak, they are thoroughly perverse.

    8:9. But they hearing this, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest. And Jesus alone remained, and the woman standing in the midst.

    It is St. John, who has witnessed the scene, who observes that the oldest Pharisee there makes the first move; he, perhaps, who has been the insistent spokesman for the rest, he now drops his head in the sight of all and slinks away, as does each of the rest, one after the other. After this, one would think that the Pharisees would be slow to show themselves, but, no, it is only a temporary setback.

    8:10. Then Jesus lifting up Himself, said to her: "Woman, where are they that accused thee? Hath no man condemned Thee?"

    All this time, the poor woman has been in the center of the crowd, being made to suffer for her sin.

    8:11. Who said: No man, Lord. And Jesus said: "Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more."

    The Lord has not come to us to judge and condemn. This is why He would not allow the Pharisees to force the role of judge upon Him. He has come to teach and to forgive, to seek our and to heal. He does not deny the womanís sin; He absolves her and sends her away.

______________________________

    Again, I thank everyone who is praying for me. I continue to receive messages of encouragement and solicitude, and financial help, for which I am most grateful. I trust everyone will pardon my not acknowledging his kindness to me. I send everyone my priestly blessing, encouraging him again to persevere in his Lenten observance.

In Christ,

Father James Wathen


    For past articles of Making Sense of Sensus Catholicus, see 2005ssc.htm Archives
    March 9, 2005
    vol 16, no. 68
    Making Sense of Sensus Catholicus