“Jesus was left alone with the woman.” This is a very striking moment, the silent wordless moment when accusation, judgement and condemnation have dispersed. He, still in the bent down position, looks up at her, symbolic of what the Incarnation means. God has bent down to us who have gone astray, taking the position of a slave, looking up to us who look up to Him in prayer.

The accusers do what accusers often do – they only tell half the truth. “Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning.” What the Law actually says is that the man who commits adultery should be stoned to death and the woman also. It takes two to commit adultery so, where is the man?

It is a brutal law that emphasises the sacredness of marriage, reminds us that our sexuality is very sacred and in a spiritual sense we experience a kind of death in us when we misuse it. Infidelity in marriage is emotionally very brutal on the spouse who is betrayed. We have witnessed this many times. Our sexuality is a beautiful, powerful force of life and yet it is also most frail. It is always to be cherished, protected and not misused or abused. This is a law of nature ever before it became a religious law.
In the prophecy of Isaiah God promises something new, something not seen before, a promise that speaks directly to the human desire for perfection and completion. Our deepest yearnings can take us off in all sorts of different directions, leading us to look in the wrong places for the fulfilment we seek.

The new that God promises is Jesus Himself, the perfection we seek, the resolution of all things is to be found in Him. Nothing can outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus, St. Paul says. “All I want is to know Christ” (Philippians 3). In knowing Him personally, we find the Way of all things. The way forward, the path of merciful forgetting. A listening that hears without condoning or condemning.

The law too becomes new in Jesus. As He stands up, it too rises up in Him to a higher meaning, the meaning of Mercy. “If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” There is no answer to that. We have all sinned, continue to sin and so we have no authority to judge, let alone condemn another. The law is now to be understood with the eyes and mind of Jesus; all of the Old Testament only has its true fulfilment and meaning through Him.

Our contemplation of the Gospel calls us to compassionate listening, an empathetic hearing that brings us to enter into the experience of this woman, to stand in her shoes. What does it feel like to so exposed, humiliated; to be facing the prospect of such a brutal death? What does Jesus feel in the face of such a person? In the face of me? And somehow the woman represents Jesus himself, prefigures what will soon enough happen to Him. He will be taken for a sinner, judged, condemned, exposed and humiliated. Jesus identifies with her, as He identifies with each and every one of us in our struggle with sin.

“No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before. See, I am doing a new deed “(Isaiah 43) and “I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come; I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3) These words are particularly important when we are growing older with a sensitive conscience and we are beset by memories of past sins that will not leave us alone. God is asking us to forget and to trust in His Mercy that has forgiven us. He himself has cast our sins behind His back (Isaiah 38) and no longer calls our sins to mind (Jeremiah 31).

And we need never lose heart in our wrestling with sin or whatever it is that binds us because in everything there comes a moment of when that which has defeated us for years is suddenly defeated, overcome by grace. This has been my own experience with sin and addiction, You try and try and try, maybe even for years, and this trying is a necessary preparation for the moment of liberation but it is God in the end who releases us when the time is right. We have only to wait, to trust, and in waiting to try our very best.

‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus ‘go away, and do not sin any more.’ It’s not that the woman will not commit any sin, because it is not possible for human beings not to sin, but she will not commit this particular sin again. The absence of condemnation in Jesus sets her free.

EM April 3, 2022

Pardon In The Sand

I am the woman
Discovered undercover
Caught in the act
Exhumed from hiding
Beneath skin and flesh
The secret desirings
Of heart and mind

I am the boy
Who took refuge there
A place of escape
And safe solace
My habitual habitation

I am every one
Who exists on the outside
The other side of right

And there is nothing
That will not be revealed
In the end

And this is my end

The law abiding strong
Throng my orthodox accuser
With only one solution
The right of righteousness

I am petrified
Panic stricken stood bowed
Barely able to breathe

What will the first
Struck stone feel like?

What part of me
Will bleed and break
Before I am all blood broken
Bone splintered?

I gasp for air
For life

But God is merciful
He who alone is Good
Stands upright
Sees all that I am – ALL –
Absorbs me into Himself

He bends down
So that my bending
Now has no shame in it

And He writes my Pardon
In the sand.

Great is His Name

(September 30, 2017)