By Carolyn Shields
A lot can make us want to run: fear, shame, anger, to name a few. But in John 8, we are introduced to a woman who stood her ground. She isn’t given a name, and in fact she is only known for her sin. In today’s Gospel, we meet the Woman Caught In Adultery.
This Gospel is a powerful one, and yet the “plot” is so simple: a woman is caught in adultery, brought to Jesus by an angry crowd who also wants to challenge Jesus’ response. He kneels, writes something mysterious on the ground while they shout how she should be killed, and His response is “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” When they leave, “one by one,” Jesus is left alone with the woman.
Here’s the moment. Here’s our moment.
Because we are each invited to take her place and stand before the Lord as we are, however we are. And it’s a powerfully intimate exchange. She’s probably at the lowest point in her life, she’s exposed, and yet she stands her ground. She could have slipped off when Jesus captivated the crowd while writing in the dirt. She could have left one by one as well, whispering a “thanks” in her breathless departure. But she instead chooses to stand before Jesus.
He asks her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
This entire Gospel seems to revolve around her, and yet up until this point she is not described. She is probably cowering in the shadows. So He gives her the chance to respond. He gives her the freedom to revel in what has happened. He gives her this moment.
“No one, sir.”
“Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.”
And even though it’s likely she will sin again—maybe not in the same way, but just as we all find ourselves back in the confessional again and again—Jesus offers her the grace to be free of it. Jesus forgives her, but can she forgive herself? When we leave the confessional, clothed in this very same grace, can we leave our sin behind?
St. Augustine wrote that in the end, there were only two in this story standing in the place of Jesus and the woman: misery and mercy. Mercy is when the heart goes into the misery of someone else, and perhaps we see this marriage best on the Cross. This woman was waiting for a stone that wouldn’t be thrown, but rather it would be rolled away. And when it was, the Man who stood before her invites us to leave our sins behind and begin again.