Sunday, March 29, 2009

Gospel for Monday, 5th Week of Lent

John 8:1-11

Different Opinions About Jesus (Continuation)

[1] But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

The Adulterous Woman

[2] Early in the morning He came again to the temple; all the people came to Him, and He sat down and taught them. [3] The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst [4] they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. [5] Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?" [6] This they said to test Him, that they might have some charge to bring against Him. Jesus bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground. [7] And as they continued to ask Him, He stood up and said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." [8] And once more He bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground. [9] But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before Him. [10] Jesus looked up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" [11] She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again."

1-11. This passage is absent from many ancient codexes, but it was in the Vulgate when the Magisterium, at the Council of Trent, defined the canon of Sacred Scripture. Therefore, the Church regards it as canonical and inspired, and has used it and continues to use it in the liturgy. It is also included in the New Vulgate, in the same position as it occupied before.

St. Augustine said that the reason doubts were raised about the passage was that it showed Jesus to be so merciful that some rigorists thought it would lead to a relaxation of moral rules--and therefore many copyists suppressed it from their manuscripts (cf. "De Coniugiis Adulterinis", 2, 6).

In commenting on the episode of the woman caught in adultery Fray Luis de Granada gives these general considerations on the mercy of Christ: "Your feelings, your deeds and your words should be akin to these, if you desire to be a beautiful likeness of the Lord. And therefore the Apostle is not content with telling us to be merciful; he tells us, as God's sons, to put on `the bowels of mercy' (cf. Colossians 3:12). Imagine, then, what the world would be like if everyone arrayed themselves in this way.

"All this is said to help us understand to some degree the great abundance of the goodness and compassion of our Savior, which shine forth so clearly in these actions of His, for [...] in this life we cannot know God in Himself; we can know Him only through His actions. [...] But it should also be pointed out that we should never act in such a way in view of God's mercy, that we forget about His justice; nor should we attend to His justice forgetting about His mercy; for hope should have in it an element of fear, and fear an element of hope" ("Life of Jesus Christ", 13, 4).

1. We know that on a number of occasions our Lord withdrew to the Mount of Olives to pray (cf. John 18:2; Luke 22:39). This place was to the east of Jerusalem; the Kidron Valley (cf. John 18:1) divided it from the hill on which the temple was built. It had from ancient times been a place of prayer: David went there to adore God during the difficult period when Absalom was in revolt (2 Samuel 15:32), and there the prophet Ezekiel contemplated the glory of Yahweh entering the temple (Ezekiel 43:1-4). At the foot of the hill there was a garden, called Gethsemane or "the place of the oil-press", an enclosed plot containing a plantation of olive trees. Christian tradition has treated this place with great respect and has maintained it as a place of prayer. Towards the end of the fourth century a church was built there, on whose remains the present church was built. There are still some ancient olive trees growing there which could well derive from those of our Lord's time.

6. The question put by the scribes and Pharisees has a catch: our Lord had often shown understanding to people they considered sinners; they come to Him now with this case to see if He will be equally indulgent--which will allow them to accuse Him of infringing a very clear precept of the Law (cf. Leviticus 20:10).

7. Jesus' reply refers to the way stoning was carried out: those who witnessed the crime had to throw the first stones, and then others joined in, to erase the slur on the people which the crime implied (cf. Deuteronomy 17:7). The question put to Jesus was couched in legal terms; He raises it to the moral plane (the basis and justification of the legal plane), appealing to the people's conscience. He does not violate the law, St. Augustine says, and at the same time He does not want to lose what He is seeking--for He has come to save that which was lost: "His answer is so full of justice, gentleness and truth. [...] O true answer of Wisdom. You have heard: Keep the Law, let the woman be stoned. But how can sinners keep the Law and punish this woman? Let each of them look inside himself and enter the tribunal of his heart and conscience; there he will discover that he is a sinner. Let this woman be punished, but not by sinners; let the Law be applied, but not by its transgressors" (St. Augustine, "In Ioann. Evang.", 33, 5).

11. "The two of them were left on their own, the wretched woman and Mercy. But the Lord, having smitten them with the dart of justice, does not even deign to watch them go but turns His gaze away from them and once more writes on the ground with His finger. But when the woman was left alone and they had all gone, He lifted up His eyes to the woman. We have already heard the voice of justice; let us now hear the voice of gentleness. I think that the woman was the more terrified when she heard the Lord say, `Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,' [...] fearing now that she would be punished by Him, in whom no sin could be found. But He, who had driven away her adversaries with the tongue of justice, now looking at her with the eyes of gentleness asks her, `Has no one condemned you?' She replies, `No one, Lord.' And He says, `Neither do I condemn you; I who perhaps you feared would punish you, because in Me you have found no sin.' Lord, can it be that You favor sinners? Assuredly not. See what follows" `Go and sin no more.' Therefore the Lord also condemned sin, but not the woman' (St. Augustine, "In Ioann. Evang.", 33, 5-6).

Jesus, who is the Just One, does not condemn the woman; whereas these people are sinners, yet they pass sentence of death. God's infinite mercy should move us always to have compassion on those who commit sins, because we ourselves are sinners and in need of God's forgiveness.
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

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