We have already moved into the season of Lent. It is time when we can reflect upon some of the encounters Jesus had in the gospels leading up to Holy Week. One of the powerful incidents I am drawn to is found in John’s Gospel. It centres on the woman caught in adultery who is brought before Jesus by the Scribes and Pharisees. Determined to catch Jesus out, they present Him with a dilemma by demanding that she should be stoned on the spot in accordance with Law of Moses. If Jesus said the woman should be stoned, He would contravene Roman law and would be seen as flouting their authority, but if ,however, He told them to let her go, He would then be accused of disregarding the teaching of Moses.
Yet again, Jesus confronts everyone. He doodles in the dust with His finger while He calmly thinks of His reply and then leaves them to digest it. I’m sure this act heightened the discomfort of those who really cared nothing for this woman. Jesus’ response is the classic third way. He invites any guiltless person to throw the first stone. I can almost hear Him saying, “Go on then, who will it be?”. Of course, there is not one guiltless person present apart from the one in the middle of the scene. So gradually they slip away, one by one, no doubt full of resentment for the way Jesus has shown them up.
There are times when criticism is justified, but hopefully it will be a bit more merciful than what the woman might have experienced at the hands of others. Jesus didn’t condone her behaviour, but I think He understood that vengeful punishment leads to resentment and further revenge. Who was it who said, “An eye for an eye, makes the whole world blind.” In our day to day lives it is easy to fall into the trap of excessive criticism to the point where we just don’t realise how caught up we are. Lenten-tide is a time to re-examine our lives, for it is often through acknowledging our own deficiencies that we can feel a deeper understanding of others’ failings.
We do not know what happened to the woman afterwards. I like to think she got her life back on track and her relationships were renewed and restored. Perhaps, like Mary Magdalene, she became one of Jesus’ most devoted friends. Perhaps she is the same woman who anointed Jesus’ head with oil and washed his feet with her tears. But then again who knows what is possible by the grace and forgiveness of God.