A well dressed businessman once went on a train trip that required him to share an overnight compartment with another passenger. When the other passenger entered the compartment the businessman's heart sank, for his companion was one of the meanest, roughest looking characters you could imagine. Tattoos covered his arms, multiple earrings were in his lobes, and his jeans were faded and torn.
"How can I possibly go to sleep tonight?" thought the businessman, "I'll no sooner be off to sleep than this man will rummage through my bags and steal my wallet and laptop computer." Then he had an idea. The respectable looking man went in search of the guard’s carriage and explained his predicament. His travel partner was a shady looking type and would the guard mind holding onto his wallet and computer until morning? The guard, used to this type of request, readily agreed and enquired as to the respectable man's compartment number. "No worries sir. Funny thing though sir, you're traveling companion was here not more than an hour ago, leaving his valuables for the same reason as you!"
Although the scribes and Pharisees make the woman caught in adultery “stand in the middle” of the crowd, she is not the center of their concern. To them the woman is merely a prop. Although they present a legal case to Jesus, their concern is not the Law of Moses. To them, the law is merely a device to test Jesus. As often pointed out, although the woman was allegedly “caught in the very act of committing adultery,” the man is not present. The law to which the scribes and Pharisees appeal prescribes death for both the man and the woman. Again, the intent of this banana court is not justice; all that matters is that Jesus be discredited and possibly convicted of violating the law himself. Interestingly, Jesus does not respond to the legal case presented to him. Rather, he views the entire matter as a moral concern. Whereas the scribes and Pharisees frame the issue in terms of law, Jesus frames it in terms of sin. While it may, perhaps, be possible for people to be always law abiding, sin is something in which all share. But in suggesting that all are sinners, Jesus is not saying that sin should not be condemned; rather each person should look to his or her own sin. This is similar to the Gospel that were heard on the Third Sunday of Lent in which Jesus redirected the crowd’s curiosity about the sin of the victims of Pilate and the building accident to reflect rather on their own sin.. Jesus, the true center of the story, draws everyone into the charged situation: the spectators, the accusers, and the woman. Standing before Jesus, seeing his response, hearing his words—all learn the truth about themselves: they are sinners. The elders (traditionally honored as the wisest folks in town) are the first to see the wisdom of Jesus and so are the first to leave. The accusers, foiled again, also leave. The woman is given a reprieve from death and is offered a fresh start: “from now on do not sin any more.”
My brothers and sisters last week we dealt with reconciliation and we saw the father forgiving his son and not “judging” him. Today we see Jesus who reminds those around him that we are sinful and should start to see our own weaknesses and stop to see the faults of others. How many times do we fall into that category when we look around us and see the faults of others? How many times might we get on the phone and say, “oh did you see what Jen is doing with that house?” Other times we might say, “Look at that person, he must be a real loser.” My dear brothers and sisters we all have heard the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” How true that is that we shouldn’t be putting labels on people. We don’t know the situation that they are in, we don’t know what are in their hearts.
We have a group in our church, I’m referring to the church as the whole church and not this particular parish that believes everything is black and white. They are people that immediately condemn those that they feel are not following church teaching but my brothers and sisters I learn more and more each day as I converse with people, each case is so different. We have to hear the person’s story to figure out where they are coming from. Yes we must remember that our God is a God of Judgment but he is also a God of mercy.
My brothers and sisters we also must remember that there is always room for forgiveness for those who have fallen astray. We hear in the Gospel of Matthew, “What do you think? if a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders way, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about the one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones be lost.” Our Lord is always with open hands to welcome those back into his arms, then aren’t we also do the same?
Pope John Paul II back in 1998 preached on this particular Gospel and he said, “Jesus however unmasked their cunning: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). While this authoritative reply reminds us that it is only the Lord who can judge, it reveals the true meaning of divine mercy, which leaves open the possibility for repentance and emphasizes the great respect for the dignity of the person, which not even sin can take away. “Go, and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). The last words of this episode show that God does not want the sinner to die, but to repent of the evil he has committed and live.”
So my brothers and sisters let us not judge those that we feel are lost but let us help them instead to return back to that road of forgiveness to that road that will bring them to the love that only Jesus can give. We can do this by our prayers and especially by our own actions that go in line with the Gospel. “The Lord has come not for the righteousness but for the sinner.”
Living Liturgy, p. 87