A REFLECTION on today’s Gospel Reading John 8:1-11
by Fr. Daniel Patrick Huang, SJ
Jesus is left with the woman. There is no coercion, no forced “standing”; instead, there is simple loving, “easy presence…“Only two are left – mercy and misery!” Augustine wrote. But Jesus did not want only two. He wanted the others, hearing the story of the Father’s writing twice, to hear the call of the Father and his Son to communion, to friendship, to reconciliation. He wanted them not just not to cast stones, but to embrace the woman lovingly, to enact their solidarity with her.
For the first time in the story, the miserable woman speaks. She says that no human being is left to condemn her. Perhaps he is saying too that even she herself no longer condemns herself. And Jesus, whom she addresses as Lord, suggesting she recognizes his Divine Source, affirms, in the name of Yahweh, in the name of his Father, that there is no condemnation for her in the heart of God either.
I believe that for a few, brief, indescribably precious moments, that woman had a taste of life in God’s Kingdom, an experience that she, I am sure, never forgot the rest of her life. For a fewfleeting moments, forthat woman, there was no neighbor to condemn or to hate; no inner voice within her condemning and hating herself and Jesus, in the name of his Father, affirmed that there is no condemnation in God either. A life without condemnation, hate, division, only acceptance, full, complete, freely given: this is the kind of life we most deeply desire – and that woman experienced it, if only for a fewpassing moments.
Jesus sends the woman on her way, not as before, but in a new way. “Sin no more,” he says. But this is not just a command, an ethical demand he lays on her. Before he sends her off, Jesus has already given her a new dignity.
How? A few verses earlier, he called her “Woman.” It is the same word he uses to address his mother twice in this gospel, once at the Wedding at Cana, once at the foot of the Cross. “Woman” is thus not just a designation of her as female, but a word of respect and new identity, a word that says to this broken woman, “Go: you are a life-giver. Walk as one who tan give life.” Walk, in other words, like Jesus, who has “come that they might have life and life to the full” (Jn10:10).
Three things happened:
First, human beings are freed from their false identities. They discover their true selves, their true worth. The adulteress is not a worthless sinner who will be held forever in her sin. The Pharisees and scribes do not need to hold on to their tiring, anxious, death-dealing tactic of creating an identity by holding people in their sins. There is no need for them, or for anyone, to build a sense of self founded on competition, and superiority. Because whether adulteress or Pharisee, you are the Beloved of God. There is a love in God for each person that goes before anything we do and continues despite anything we do. There is no condemnation in God. The father writes twice or thrice, four times, etc. because he is a faithful and loving God and we are his Beloved.
Secondly, human beings are created anew. They are forgiven, which is a great gift. But they are not only forgiven. A new dignity is given them. Human beings are created anew. Like the adulterous woman, not only are people forgiven sinners, God’s beloved for whom his compassion will never run out; they are made life-givers, called to walk as Jesus did, Jesus, the one who came that “they might have life.,”
Third, human beings are called to communion, reconciliation, friendship. “Where are they?” Jesus asked. Human beings, healed of their distorted sense of self, discovering their deepest identity and created anew, are called to embrace one another as fellow forgiven sinners, fellow life givers – not to walk away one by one, but to create community, to live in mutual life-giving relationships.