Saving Lives Comes First

– Monday Week 5 of Lent –

“Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery… ” [John 8:1-3]

The story of the woman caught in adultery is so well known, like the story of the Prodigal Son or the woman at the well. I have always been struck by the compassion of Jesus in dealing with a human being caught out in sexual sin. He doesn’t judge her but is merciful to her, forgiving her, as the father in the story of the Prodigal Son from last week had also done.

But in contemplating this story for a bit longer, it seemed that what Jesus did for the woman was much more basic than dispensing mercy.

First up, he is saving the woman’s life. She is about to be stoned to death. He focuses on her, puts himself lower than her as he writes on the ground, and doesn’t get caught up in an extended argument with those condemning her, leaving her overlooked.

Secondly, he mirrors back to the so-called “learned” men the hypocrisy of their judgmental position. For the Pharisees, this event was not about dispensing true justice.

Instead, they were only interested in trapping Jesus, hoping that whatever he might say would put him in the wrong. He would be accused of subverting the Mosaic law if he forbade the stoning. If he had agreed to stone her, he would lose the support of the ordinary people, who would have been offended and alienated by his strict adherence to the law. Jesus gives the woman back her life, and only then does he evaluate her behaviour, telling her to be on her way and live a better life. This evaluation is not just the tail end of the story, but saving her life, and restoring her to herself, is more critical and must take precedence over judgment and condemnation.

And I think this is what the Church is called to do; focus on the person first, relate to them, get on their side, give them back the life they are in danger of losing, and only then worry about helping them evaluate their behaviour.

“We look at the sky. The many stars, but when the morning comes, we don’t see the stars. Such is the mercy of God: it is a great light of love, of tenderness” (Pope Francis, Homily, April 7, 2014).


by Janiene Wilson

get the daily reflections sent directly to your email

Thank you, we'll be in touch soon

You can close this page now, or if you would like to learn more about us, check out our website.