The Gospel from last Sunday (Jn 8:1-11) about the woman caught in adultery has haunted me for the past few days. While there are many pieces to ponder and various levels of spirituality one can glean from it, I keep tripping up over one very obvious yet very subtle fact: the woman stayed standing in front of Jesus.
Most times in the Gospel readings there are minute details that a person can read through and totally not catch the depth of the meaning. But sometimes they can be frustratingly lacking in detail. We do not know the woman’s name or the circumstances of how she was caught in the trap of the Pharisees. Was she set up? Did she agree to be part of the plan? Did she make a habit of committing adultery, or was this the first time? Who was her husband? Was he in on the plan? John did not include any of these details in the account, perhaps out of mercy to her, so that we can’t invoke her name or her situation.
One by one her accusers walk away and she is standing alone before Jesus. Could she read? Did she know what He was writing on the ground? Did she even know who Jesus was? Yet she stood there until He addressed her. Her response is just two short words acknowledging that no one had condemned her. She neither pleaded her innocence nor her guilt. Perhaps she was curious as to what Jesus would say, now that she survived the mob of vengeance. While it’s beautiful to hear Jesus saying He doesn’t condemn her either, He does give her a directive not to sin again.
We need to keep this story in mind as we celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. We stand (or sit, or kneel) before Jesus (who is personified by the priest) and while we don’t have a mob of people declaring all our offenses, we do await the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the priest’s response: the counsel, the penance, and the absolution. In the most beautiful words, the absolution is like Jesus’ response to the woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
Perhaps because I correlate the woman’s interaction with Jesus to the sacrament, I am curious as to what happened next for her. What did her husband say when she returned home? How did other people treat her after that? Was she shunned or did others forgive her once they found out that Jesus forgave her? Maybe most importantly, how was she changed by her interaction with Jesus? Did she become a follower? Alas, there is no more written of her, so we will never know in this lifetime.
Even when comparing this account with the sacrament of reconciliation, I still marvel that she stayed standing after all her accusers left. I wonder if I had been in her shoes, would I have stayed there? Or, once I knew I was not going to be stoned, would I have walked away? Would I have waited until Jesus addressed me? Or would I have been too embarrassed by what had happened to want to have any sort of interaction with Him? Being branded an adulteress, perhaps she knew that Jesus was different from any other man she had ever met. Perhaps she heard about His healings and wanted to be healed as well.
May we all have the courage of this adulteress to stand in our sin before God, seeking His healing mercy and the grace not to sin again.