Mercy and Forgiveness
by Fr. Sal Putzu, SDB
THAT day Jerusalem was set to witness the public execution of a confessed sinner—a woman caught in adultery. The case was clear. The punishment was known to all: death by stoning. (See Lv 20:10 ff and Dt 22:22ff.)
But that day, the zealous scribes and Pharisees were determined to catch two birds—the adulteress and Jesus—with one stone. The same stone could be used for both, since Jesus, too—in their view—had gone against the law, and more than once.
The trap was set. (See Jn 8:5f.) It was just a matter of delaying the execution by a short while—until Jesus expressed his view, and caused his own ruin . . . But that day, Jesus hesitated to speak. There was an icy, deafening silence after the initial insidious utterances of the zealous accusers. The silence of the woman was understandable. She could offer no justification, and any pleading for mercy would have fallen on deaf ears. The silence of Jesus, however, was not only unexpected, but above all, provocative. The case was clear. Why did he hesitate to concur with the provision of the Law?
His enemies demanded an answer. But when the answer came, they regretted it. When finally Jesus rose and spoke up, it was the turn of the noisy crowd to grow speechless. Their angry voices fell silent; their faces drooped; the stones landed quietly on the ground, with muffled thuds. . . All the scribes and Pharisees present made an about-turn, and then strode off like a routed army, starting with the elders, as the evangelist points out.
Only Jesus and the adulteress remained. As the woman heard the voice of her defender, all her fright vanished and was replaced by a confident trust in God’s mercy.
God’s forgiveness had made her “new,” alive once again and free—free from sin and from the fear of human condemnation and mercilessness.
There is much of that woman in us, though our sins may be of a different kind. We, too, may have experienced the terror that our sins might be known, and thereby, we might lose our good name, if not our life, at the hands of the many who enjoy exposing and condemning the failings of others . . . .
But God is different from us. He is “one of a kind,” even when it is a matter of judging our sins. We see His attitude revealed in Christ,” the face of God’s mercy” (Pope Francis). He stands discreetly by us even as we recoil in shame and fear. He shows himself to be infinitely more understanding than ordinary, sinful human beings can be.
His readiness to forgive, of course, should not be interpreted as indifference to sin, and even less as an encouragement to continue sinning. His forgiveness is always accompanied by the exhortation to avoid sin in the future. (See the last verse in today’s Gospel passage.) He knows well that we are molded out of clay but he also challenges us to do better.
When God touches us with His forgiving love, He heals us thoroughly and gives us peace. He sets us free not only from our past sins, but also from our fears and remorse. With His loving presence He strengthens us, and makes us determined to live as He pleases, even when there are no human judges to condemn us.
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