Throughout the Gospels, the Pharisees continually try to test Jesus, as they do in today’s Gospel. These tests are often set as traps, where the Pharisees only see two possible answers. No matter how Jesus answers, they believe that he will advocate breaking either the Jewish or the Roman law. It’s a seemingly “no-win” situation: and yet, Jesus continually finds a way to answer these questions that defies the expectations of the pharisees.
Today’s Gospel is no different. The Pharisees pose the question about whether or not the woman should be stoned because they are aware that Roman law prohibited the Jewish leaders from using the death penalty. As a side note, This is why they had to appeal to Pontius Pilate to have Jesus crucified. However, the Jewish law clearly states that adulterers are to be put to death. If Jesus answers that she should be put to death, the Pharisees could report Jesus to the Romans for breaking their law. If, on the other hand, he says that she should not be stoned, he runs the risk of angering the pharisees further, and driving away his followers, who expect him to follow the law faithfully.
Jesus seems to be trapped: but as he does so many other times, he finds a way to respond that cuts through the trap. He simply responds: “let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus knows full well that he is the only one without sin in the crowd and is the only one who could cast the first stone. And yet he doesn’t. Jesus, knowing the law, also knows that the first stones were to be thrown by the witnesses, and not by a third party. Jesus recognizes that the appeal of the Pharisees to his decision is little more than a cheap publicity stunt. Instead, He waits until the crowd has left, and then he finally speaks to the woman.
Jesus, in speaking to the woman, does not declare her innocent, or tell her that she has done nothing wrong. He simply states that he does not condemn her and instructs her to “go and sin no more.” In doing so, Jesus shows us the way of mercy, and reminds us of the importance of not judging others. As we enter into the last two weeks of Lent, commonly referred to as Passiontide, we are reminded of the depths of God’s mercy for us, shown to us through Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. May we always strive to follow this example, and always seek to show greater mercy to all those we meet.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Steven Huber, CSB