At the time of Jesus, adultery was an offense punishable by death. Since the Romans conquered Palestine in 63 BC, the Jews had lost the right to carry out death sentences. The right was reserved to the Roman procurator. In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, the scribes and Pharisees tried to set up a legal trap for Jesus by bringing a woman who was caught in the very act of adultery to Him to ask Him for His judgment of what should be done to her.
If Jesus opted for the Mosaic Law of death penalty, then He may be seen as heartless and would lose His reputation as a compassionate man of tax collectors and sinners (Mt 11:19). Moreover, Jesus may also come into conflict with the Roman authorities. However, if Jesus condoned adultery, He would be perceived as supporting the break-up of families.
In His response, Jesus took the moral-personal approach by saying to them, “If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her. . . He then bent down and started to writing on the ground.” The Gospel tells us that “When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, (presumably they had the greatest sins) until Jesus was left alone with the woman.” After a while, Jesus looked up and said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she replied. “Neither do I condemn you. “Go away and sin no more.”
In doing so, Jesus reminds us that the first Christian principle that we are each called to uphold is that only a person who has no fault can pass judgement on others. That is why Jesus in Mt 7:1 teaches, “Judge no and you will not be judged.” Also, in Mt 7:3-5, Jesus asserting that we are first to remove the plank in our own eye before we remove the splinter in out neighbour’s eye. This also means that only God has the right to judge because no one is good enough to judge others.
The second Christian principle that we can learn from Jesus in this account is that when someone has committed any sins, we should make a clear distinction between the sin and the sinner. Like Jesus we should condemn the sin but always be compassionate towards the sinner.
In short, as Christians, you and I are each called to be Christ-like in our compassion towards others, for we are not without our own sins and faults. And if God continues to forgive us and show us His Mercy and unconditional Love, then we too as His sons and daughters, and as disciples of His Son Jesus, must show compassion to all peoples who are suffering regardless of their rank, race and religion.
John Harriott expresses the meaning of compassion beautifully in his poem when he says,
There is room in the world for loving;
there is no room for hate.
There is room in the world for sharing;
there is no room for greed.
There is room for justice;
no room for privilege.
There is room for compassion;
no room for pride.
The world is ample enough for the needs of all,
too small for the greed of a few.
Let us learn that we depend on each other
that the eye cannot say to the hand
“I need you not.”
Let us be delicate with persons.
Let us touch the earth lightly with hands like petals.
Let us speak softly and carry no stick.
Let us open the clenched fist and extend the open palm.
Let us mourn till others are comforted,
weep till others laugh.
Let us be sleepless till all can sleep untroubled.
Let us be meek till all stand up in pride.
Let us be frugal till all are filled.
Let us give till all have received.
Let us make no claims till all have had their due.
Let us be slaves till all are free.
Let us lay down our lives
till others have life abundantly.
Let us be restless for others, serene within ourselves.
Let us be as gods.
Compassion is more than simply feeling sorry for someone at a distant; true compassion is not cold, but sincere desires of wishing to absorb the pain of the other as much as we can. Jean Vanier adds that “compassion is a word that is full of meaning. It means: sharing the same passion, sharing the same suffering, sharing the same agony, accepting into my heart the misery in yours. Your pain calls out to me. It touches my heart. It awakens something within me, and I become one with you in your pain. I may not be able to relieve your pain, but by understanding it and sharing it, I make it possible for you to bear it in a way that enhances your dignity and helps you grow.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we all know that Jesus must remain forever our model of all things. Like Him, we must condemn the sin of adultery with utmost severity. However, we are also aware that this has become difficult nowadays because the message we get from Hollywood is that adultery is no big deal; just a pleasant interlude, a nice parenthesis amid the bleak monotony of marriage. But, we all know that the images that Hollywood portray in films and in their lifestyles are lies. The truth is that adultery ruins marriages and destroys families.
Whenever adultery is condoned or treated lightly, society is soon disrupted and is reduced to what now exists in many countries: a majority of children raised by only one parent – a system which breeds social violence.
In the context of the severe harm and destruction that adultery can cause, it is good to ask ourselves a question, “Did Jesus forgave the adulteress lightly and too easily, as if the sin did not matter? In the Gospel, Jesus turns to the adulteress and asks, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir” she replied. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus, “Go and sin no more.”
No, Jesus did not treat the sin of adultery lightly. On the other hand, Jesus treated the sinner compassionately. The basic differences between Jesus and the scribes and the Pharisees are that: while they wished to condemn, Jesus wished to forgive; while the Pharisees regarded the adulteress with self-righteousness condemnation, Jesus regarded her as someone with hope and should be given the chance for a conversion of heart, and be seen as a someone with potentials of becoming a great saint one day.
The story of today’s Gospel on the adulteress remains unfinished . . . and we are invited to embrace the story and make it our own . . . we are each challenged to make Jesus our model in our daily living . . . a model of compassion that condemns sin, but never the sinner, for we ourselves are sinners and only God can condemn. But then again, God will never condemn any person. He will always give us the needed spiritual strength to remain faithful to Him and to live His Will as spouses at all times . . .
with His graces and the Holy Spirit . . .
No temptations cannot be overcomed
No sins cannot be forgiven
No hope cannot be fulfilled . . . in God’s Love and Ways.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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