Gospel: St. John 8:1-11.
The Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Lent, traditionally the First Sunday of Passiontide, presents to us the presentation of the adulteress to Our Lord, whereby the Pharisees seek to entrap Him.
Image the scene: the Lord is sitting in the Temple courts with many around Him, teaching them the New Law and giving them the doctrine that shall lead them to salvation. The Supreme High Priest preaches the Gospel to the many hungry children who are in need of a Father to guide them; lost sheep in need of a merciful Shepherd to be mindful of them and their needs. And so, Our dearest Saviour comes to them to give them what they need: salvation.
In the midst of His teaching, the Pharisees, ever the present adversaries of Our Lord and His doctrine, approach Him, bringing with them a woman caught in adultery. They do not come to beg the Lord to forgive her. No, they present her so that they might entrap the Redeemer. Truly, such an exercise clarifies the words of the Saviour Himself, when He said of the Pharisees: You are of your father, the Devil. And like their infernal father, the Pharisees never cease to find new ways to hinder the Sacred Ministry of Christ. The Pharisees make sure all is done publicly, so that everyone within the precinct of the Temple may bear witness to their victory: the falsification of Jesus Christ.
They drag the adulteress before the Lord, and say to Him: Master, this woman was even now taken in adultery. Now Moses in the law commanded us to stone such a one. But what sayest thou? They seek to tempt Him in a twofold manner:
Firstly, if the Lord orders her to be stoned, per the Law of Moses, the Pharisees will report Him to the Romans for criminal activity, since the Jews were forbidden to administer the death penalty under Roman rule. Doing so will be seen as a usurpation of the rights of Imperial Rome.
Secondly, if the Lord forbids her stoning, the Pharisees will denounce Him as a false Messiah, because He would have contradicted the Law of Moses, which deems adultery a capital crime.
Yet the Lord masterfully causes the Pharisees to fall into their own trap, as it is written in the Psalm, which David chanted to the Lord, saying of Jesus: They prepared a snare for my feet; and they bowed down my soul. They dug a pit before my face, and they are fallen into it.
Our Lord's response is to direct the one without sin to cast the first stone. This traps the Pharisees, who blasphemously thought themselves sinless, because if they stone the adulteress, the wrath of Rome will come upon them, rather than upon the Lord, since they would have committed an unlawful act. On the other hand, by restraining themselves from stoning the woman and by walking away, the Pharisees are made to look like sinners in the eyes of the people, which only embarrasses their false teaching that they were without sin. Thus, their victory turns to dust, and the Lord triumphs over their evil designs.
During this event, we are told by St. John that Our Lord wrote something down on the ground. We are never told what this was, and for centuries many in the Church have debated what it was. The gesture recalls Jeremiah 17:13, which says: O Lord the hope of Israel: all that forsake thee shall be confounded: they that depart from thee, shall be written in the earth: because they have forsaken the Lord, the vein of living waters. Truly, Our Lord is the Living Water, and the Pharisees had forsaken Him, and thus we could presume to think as to whether what the Lord wrote in the dirt was the names of the Pharisees themselves. Alas, we shall not know until the Day, when all things shall be revealed. Yet, we may take the teaching of St. Bede the Venerable, who says that the moral of Christ's writing was to teach us to bend low in humility and to examine ourselves both before and after addressing the faults of our neighbour.
After the Pharisees had left, only Christ and the woman remained. Now, the woman is left with the only One Who is without sin, and Who can judge her. Yet, ever solicitous for the salvation of souls, He deems not to judge her, but to turn her to penance, by commanding her to go and sin no more. And this He says to all of us who present ourselves to Him in Confession, when we kneel before the Just Judge and confess our sins. He, though possessing every right to judge us damned and to make us to fall in Hell, instead says to us: I do not condemn you. Go, and sin no more.
This is what Lent is about: sinning no more. And not Lent only, but every day we should be striving to sin no more. Let us pray that, with what remains of Lent, we may be given the grace to take up our crosses, and fight against our sins and temptations, so that we may be perfect like the Lord.