Fifth Sunday of Lent
There was a priest who got assigned to a new parish. While listening to confessions of the people, he noticed that a lot of them confessed that they “fell off the bridge”. But he did not know that the term “fell off the bridge” was a code among the parishioners meaning they had committed adultery. However, the priest didn’t know this, so went to the mayor of the town and said, “Mr Mayor, I think there’s something wrong with the bridge, because people keep on falling off the bridge”. At this, the mayor started laughing because he knew the code. The priest felt insulted so he complained to the mayor. He said, “Mr Mayor, you should take me seriously because even your wife fell off the bridge three times already!” Then the mayor’s face turned serious.
In the gospel for today, we see Jesus being asked to judge on a case where a woman was caught in the “act of committing adultery”. The Pharisees and scribes wanted to know if Jesus would consent to the stoning of the woman as her punishment based on Mosaic Law. However, what the Pharisees and the scribes were really up to was to trap Jesus so that they could charge him or at least discredit him in front of his followers. The Pharisees and the scribes thought that if Jesus would say that the woman shouldn’t be stoned then Jesus would be accused of disregarding Mosaic Law. If Jesus said that she should be stoned, the Pharisees and the scribes would say that Jesus is a hypocrite, teaching forgiveness, mercy and compassion but would not really practice it because he lets this woman die. And another thing, since the Romans had taken away the right for the Sanhedrin to execute people, if the Jews were caught imposing the death penalty among them, they would get into trouble with the Roman authorities. In fact some bible scholars believe that this was a trap because if the Pharisees and scribes follow Mosaic Law, where is the man? Because in Mosaic Law, both man and woman involved in such acts should both be executed. So why did they only have the woman but not the man? Perhaps, they had “planted” the man to make this act of adultery and then let the man go after they caught the woman.
After asking Jesus his verdict on whether the woman should be stoned or not, Jesus did something mysterious; he started writing on the ground with his finger. Many bible scholars have wondered what Jesus might have written. But the general consensus is that Jesus might just be doodling on the ground. It is a sign to tell everyone that he is not interested, or he may just be buying his time on what to answer. However, after being pressed for an answer, Jesus stood up and said, “He who has no sin, cast the first stone.” Then he bent down again and started doodling again. Then all the people left one by one starting with the elders. Then when everybody had left, Jesus stood up and asked the woman, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” And Jesus concludes, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
This story of mercy and compassion of Jesus is the essence of the Lenten Season. Jesus knew that what was laid on him was not a sincere question about Mosaic Law but instead a malicious trap in order to get him into trouble. Sadly, the adulterous woman was used as a pawn in this chess game between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes. However, Jesus also took advantage of this opportunity of how mercy should be practiced. That while mercy and forgiveness was given to the woman, she is also asked by Jesus not to sin anymore. The woman is being called to convert from her fallen ways and follow the Lord instead.
This is the call of Jesus to all of us. We are being called to accept Jesus’ mercy and compassion and also to heed his call not to sin anymore. And while we accept that not sinning anymore is almost impossible to achieve, yet with Jesus’ help we can get closer and closer to perfection and to not sin at all.
As we are about to wind down with the Lenten season and enter into Holy Week very soon, let us continue to be thankful for the mercy and compassion that our Lord has shown to all of us and may we also exercise the same to our brothers and sisters as well.