“Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
- John 8:1-11
You know the expression, “I hit rock bottom”? For this woman, that phrase probably captured what she was experiencing. She had been caught in adultery – found in the “very act of committing adultery.” She was dragged from where she was and forced into the middle of an angry mob of strangers seeking to kill two birds (the woman and Jesus) with one stone: seeking to kill her and also bring a charge against Jesus so they could eventually kill Him as well (John 8:6).
She was met by a normal looking man, and He held her life in His hands. She may or may not have heard about Jesus, but her fate hung in every word He would say. The Pharisees were looking to use this woman as a means to an end; she was brought to Jesus so that they could test Him. If He failed to have her stoned, they could charge Him with blasphemy for belittling the Law of Moses, which clearly stated that the punishment for adultery was death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22).
Yet, Christ makes it clear throughout the Gospels that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). But, what exactly does that mean? Does that mean that the woman was no longer guilty of the sin she committed? No. By failing to have her killed, did Jesus make adultery acceptable? Not at all.
Jesus Christ is both justice and mercy. The Law of Moses required for the woman to be stoned; He didn’t fail to invite others to stone her. He even opened up the opportunity for others to condemn the woman, but only if they met the qualification that He knew no one (besides His mother & Himself ) could meet: “let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).
Among all the people that were present, Christ could’ve immediately condemned her by His own standards. But He did not condemn her; He showed her mercy.
When she hit “rock bottom,” little did she know that she found herself next to God, who alone could be her “rock and salvation” (Psalm 62:3). She could’ve faced her death, but instead she was introduced to new life: “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore” (John 8:11).
We’ve heard it countless times that God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5), but do we truly know what that means?
When we come to Him ashamed, broken, and sinful He sees us just as we are: in need of a Savior. He does not exploit our guilt; He heals it. The only avenue in which we can come face to face with God’s mercy is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is actually a Sacrament of Healing, which means that God actually heals our sickness (our sin) when we ask Him to forgive us.
Imagine if the woman caught in adultery rather than accepting Jesus’ mercy told the angry crowds that she’d prefer to be stoned. The idea is absurd, who would prefer death to life? Yet, countless souls fail to pursue God in Reconciliation because they are embarrassed or afraid of what the priest might think. The reality is, when we do that we are letting ourselves be stoned – for sin “is death” (Romans 6:23).
Seek God. Seek mercy. Don’t wait to hit rock bottom. Don’t invite the pain of others’ stones. Seek the rock and your salvation in Christ. As St. Paul says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
*This blog is an excerpt taken from our Lent Companion