5th Sunday of Lent: John 8:1-11
Two streams converge: Jesus arrives from his place of prayer at the Mount of Olives and shares his insight and wisdom; the scribes and Pharisees come from judgement and are set on vengeance. Notice how these two currents interact in this story. Pay attention to what happens in you when heart and head seem in conflict. Jesus allows the woman to see a new freedom. Not only is she saved from stoning but he asks her to move on. “Do not sin again” – don’t give into any false image that limits or diminishes you.
The Australian theologian and Bible scholar, John Painter, draws attention to something critical that easily be missed in this passage: ‘The pronouncement of forgiveness is stated first and is not made conditional on the turn from sin. Rather, the turning from sin seems to flow from the experience of forgiveness.’ Do I believe in the possibility of radical forgiveness? It is often said that it is easier to give than to receive. Are there times when I find it easier to forgive than to believe myself forgiven? The Irish Jesuit, Blessed John Sullivan, urged participants in a retreat to ‘Be always beginning. Let the past go. The saints were always beginning. That is how they became saints.’
This story tells us about people who came to Jesus with different mindsets. The Pharisees and scribes were sure they were right and the woman knew that she had done wrong. The effecting of meeting Jesus and letting Him into their lives changes them powerfully. The Pharisees and scribes, through the words of Jesus were able to see that they too were sinners, like the woman they were accusing and they were not perfect. The woman, expecting to be punished for her error, received a lovely acceptance from Jesus which must have left a lasting impression on her. A meeting with Jesus is always a life-giving experience, as he himself has said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. We have all sinned. We have all experienced overwhelming shame. Even if the sin is not discovered, our own self-accusatory voice can so loud in our head that it drowns out the gentle voice of Jesus, telling us to begin again.
If we cannot believe ourselves forgiven, how will we ever be able to move out of what the philosopher Ivan Illich describes as “our self-imposed cages”? Lord, you who opened the ears of the deaf and the eyes of the blind, let me hear your words of forgiveness; let me see and believe in the possibility of a better life.