Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
March 13, 2016
Fifth Sunday of Lent
They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him.” John 8:6
The account just read of the woman caught in adultery is filled with lessons for us. I would like to point out a few.
First, the accusers are disingenuous. They do not bring the poor woman to Jesus for the sake of justice or to fulfill the law. Instead, knowing that He was generous and forgiving, they wanted to trap Jesus, perhaps accusing Him of ignoring the Mosaic Law. The woman is just a ploy in a little game being played by the scribes and Pharisees. How often have we seen this in our own lives? When accusations are brought, not in pursuit of justice but for the self-seeking of those who will profit by someone else’s misery. It is a maneuver too often employed in a horrid little world of pettiness and self-promotion.
Second, Jesus sees right through this smoke of hypocrisy. And what does He do? He bends down and writes in the dust. We are not told what He writes, and there has been plenty of speculation about it. The sins of the accusers perhaps? Or was He just doodling to draw attention away from the accusation and the woman and in the direction of what Jesus finally says. Like a parent listening to the idle complaint of a thoughtless child, He turns His attention to something else and thus sets the stage for the denouement. It is advice worth heeding. When we are consumed or obsessed with the self, we need to be called back to truth by something apart from us. And what is the denouement? It is the unexpected.
“Let the one among you,” Jesus says, “who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). What a brilliant challenge? He moves from the “you” to the “me.” He makes the accusers look into themselves. They are forced to be introspective. No accusation is introspective or it would not be an accusation. An accusation says that I know the truth. You do not. And now I will reveal it to you. But here Jesus invites the scribes and Pharisees to self-accusation, much as we do as Catholics when we humble ourselves in confession, when we go with naked conscience before God and divulge everything.
Finally, there is the admonition to the woman. “Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11). Jesus has not condemned her, even though she is guilty. Is this promiscuity on the part of Jesus? Certainly not. Is this Jesus ignoring the commandment against adultery? By no means. Instead, it is the patience of God reminding the woman that this forgiveness must teach a lesson. She must not return to her former ways. She must heed the lesson of love, true love, a love of a God who is willing to forgive much so that we can love by being obedient to Him.
May Lent instruct us. We are as much the accuser as the accused. Lord Jesus, write our sins in the dust to remind us of what separates us from You and let us hear the admonition of love to sin no more.
Bishop Glen John Provost