This Sunday's Gospel moves from fiction to reality. Last week, we heard Jesus draw a touching picture of His Father through the parable of the Prodigal Son. But today's Gospel passage is from real life. It doesn't deal with imaginary characters in a made-up situation, but with a woman of the region with a bad reputation, caught in the act of adultery. The Pharisees and scribes - the "good guys" - just happened to be in the right place to spy on the lady, and, of course, felt obliged to denounce her. Conveniently, so they thought, they could at the same time embarrass Jesus and undermine His popularity and authority. They were certain that He would lose face, no matter how He handled the situation. It was a no-brainer situation for them! A great stroke of luck.
You wonder, sometimes: when would these people learn not to try to fool Him? They played right into His hands. So often they hid behind the Law and their own self-righteousness to hurt other people, to judge and condemn. But Jesus would not, could not allow them this hypocrisy. His tool was a simple challenge: "Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone." While the force of those words was sinking in, He stooped down and traced some words in the sand. We are not told what He wrote, but we do know that He touched the vein of honesty in these misguided men and this sent them off, one by one, to look at their own sinfulness. And so He was left alone with the sinful woman, and was free to look deep into her eyes and see her goodness, her shame, and her potential for holiness. To her He said simply: "Has no one condemned you? Neither will I. Go, and sin no more."
This woman was changed forever. Because of Jesus' gentle touch and simple command, she was reborn into new life and became a "new creation."
As we journey through the season of Lent, we are certainly reminded that the mystery of Easter speaks to us of a very different kind of new creation... one that speaks not of failure, but of completion... not of punishment for sinfulness, but of redemption because of it… not of endings, but of new beginnings. God sent His Son in our flesh to teach us finally how to make all things new. Since the first Easter every generation of Christians has received the same challenge. In the spirit and the power of the Risen Jesus we are to renew the face of the earth. And it begins with a simple reaching out to our brothers and sisters.
On a deeper level, the Gospel story is one of gross injustice. We are told that the woman is caught, “in the very act of committing adultery.” What happened to her partner? Was this a situation set up by the Scribes and Pharisees, so as to entrap the woman and have an issue to bring before Jesus? Or is the woman being blamed, as women have been in the past, for being the temptress, leading the man to sin? One thing is certain, the Pharisees have debased her, treated her as an object for their discussion and as a means to trap Jesus.
Today, the Lord gives us a striking example of how we can become "new creations" and "ministers of reconciliation" - not judging, not condemning, not using the Law as a weapon to hurt. Jesus totally upsets the way things "ought to be." He doesn’t condemn the sin of the woman, nor the sin of the accusers. The guilty go free. So, too, we are to reach out to those who are lost, to offer compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. And that shouldn't be too difficult if we are mindful always of our own failures and frailty and of how frequently we have cried to the Lord for mercy.
Reconciliation and growth take place in real life situations, with real people - our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers or employers. These may well be persons who hurt us, or offend our sensibilities, or reject our values. But that does not give us the right to condemn them. Jesus challenges us to reach out to them, to welcome them. He expects us to treat them as He has treated us. He wants us to lift them up, heal them, to be beacons of hope for them and to restore their dignity and self-esteem.
Lent reminds us of our weakness, and our sins, and our failures. It reminds of everything that tarnishes or warps Christ's image, whether in the individual or in the community. More importantly, however, it reminds that God really doesn't care about these things. He only cares about us, doesn't judge us and He loves us in spite of ourselves. He reconciles all to himself.
Jesus frees us from our past sin, reanimates the Father's image in us and sets us free. We are now able to overcome sin. We are given life through his word. And we have all become new creations, ministers of that same reconciliation.