We are now in the final two weeks of Lent, called Passiontide. This is the deepest, most somber time of Lent. Of course, next week is Holy Week–the week in which we remember that final week of Jesus’ life. It began with Palm Sunday and ended with His death and burial on Good Friday and His rest in the tomb on Holy Saturday. Traditionally in the Church, the week before Holy Week–the week we begin today–we remember that the nation rejected Jesus, a rejection that reached its culmination on Good Friday with the crowds [Jn. 19.15; Mt. 27.25]: Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!...We have no king but Caesar…His blood be us and our children. The vital lesson each must ask him/herself is: by my life and actions, by what I put number one in my life am I rejecting Jesus? Am I following the ways and thinking of the world around me and the desires of my own sinful flesh? Jesus was not just rejected by the people on that first Good Friday; He continues to be rejected by people today, even by people claiming the name “Christian”–maybe not in blatant hostility but in simple everyday choices and actions. What a powerful call to self examination each one of us has, especially today.
Although it may not look like it if we just read today’s Gospel very superficially, in it, too, Jesus is rejected; because the Jews had rejected Him, He is being accused. It’s clear, a quick read of the Gospel shows that the woman is being accused–obviously; after all, it was clearly a set-up to entrap her in the act of adultery so that she could be used to entrap Jesus in His words; so that she could be a pawn of the religious leaders in their attempts to discredit Jesus and to accuse Him of being an enemy of the Law of God and thus God Himself; or to accuse Him before the Romans as being an enemy of Rome, some sort of trouble-
maker. Jesus had been rejected by the religious leaders of the nation–the Scribes and Pharisees–and now they were attempting to accuse Him. So a deeper reading of our Gospel shows that not only the woman, but Jesus is being accused.
Our text: Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” And then the Holy Spirit tells us through St. John: This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.
What does this show us, but the misery of those who reject Jesus! Instead of looking honestly at Jesus’ teaching and His miracles that showed who He said He is and believing/ trusting in Him they come up with some sort of scheme to [test] Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. Look at the excuses that people come up with for rejecting the Christian faith, rejecting Jesus. You know them as well as I do. Very often these reasons are accusations. That’s how they will often justify that hatred of and opposition to Jesus and the faith–they try to discredit Jesus in their hearts and minds.
The religious leaders of the Jews first rejected Jesus and then schemed to accuse Jesus and discredit Him this way and so to provoke the people against Him. “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” They place this dilemma before Jesus, with only two possible answers. Jesus would either have to release the woman or condemn her. If Jesus would say that this woman should not be stoned, then they could accuse Jesus of disobeying and rejecting the Law of Moses; if Jesus said to stone her, they could accuse Jesus of being unmerciful and thus no longer be to the people“the friend of sinners.”
What a horrible misery the enemies of our dear Lord are in–then and today. Their hatred of Christ leads them down this path into misery–always trying to find reason/ excuse for their unbelief, always trying to justify their irrational rejection of Jesus, always trying to get rid of Jesus.
But look at the scene–they had set her in the midst. There she was in front of Jesus; but they too were before Jesus. Those who reject Jesus also must stand before Him. And so what does Jesus, then, do in our text? He makes them come face to face with who He is and with their own sin: But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger…So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”
It is not just an interesting tidbit St. John put in there: Jesus wrote on the ground with His finger. Instead, it points to something deeper–the Jews pointed to the Law of God when they tested Jesus here. But where did the Law of Moses come from–Now Moses, in the law, commanded us? It came from God! We read in Exodus [31.18]– When [God] had made an end of speaking with [Moses] on Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God. So when Jesus wrote on the ground with His finger, wasn’t He by that showing His accusers that the same finger that was writing on the floor of the temple, then, was the same one who wrote the Law on the tablets, that He, Jesus, is God? That right before them was the very Lawgiver Himself?
And look at what Jesus does then: So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And by that He pricks their consciences. Here we see the true spiritual misery of Jesus’ accusers. Those who had come before Jesus in all self-righteousness, rejecting and accusing Jesus, now have their spiritual misery exposed. They are still in their sin. Combine that with what Jesus did before–writing on the ground, showing He is the Lawgiver who wrote with His finger the Law on the tablets of stone–and what do you have? –Sinners in the presence of God, the Lawgiver.
A superficial reading of our text sees only the misery of the woman. Obviously a trap was set for her to be “caught in the act”. She was then seized by these religious leaders–and certainly no time given for her modesty–and dragged into the temple where Jesus was teaching, and through the crowds and placed before Jesus. Certainly she was greatly humiliated/ shamed. Certainly she was enduring great misery. But the spiritual misery of these religious leaders with their unrepented and thus unforgiven sin is certainly much greater. That spiritual misery–of that unrepented sin and guilt so many deal with–is always there gnawing away in conscience. If gone unrepented it is an eternal misery in hell.
That gnawing spiritual misery is brought out by Jesus’ powerful words of Law: He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first. These words pricked their consciences so they recognized their own sin and secret shame; their consciences were aroused as they saw their hypocrisy and lovelessness. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. Here is their misery: they went away– still in their sin. They rejected the friend of sinners. Dear Christian, let that not be us! When the holy law of God accuses us of sin, when we feel our sin and guilt–let us then run to Jesus, the friend of sinners, and seek forgiveness of sin from Him. He is there with His rich and abundant mercy no matter how great our sin.
Isn’t this scene in today's Gospel one of misery and mercy meeting? Misery–be it the woman caught in adultery or be it the great spiritual misery of the religious leaders’ unrepented sin–our misery comes before the almighty and holy God–they had set her in the midst. And what happens as misery and mercy meet? –Mercy is given and mercy is received. Jesus gave mercy and the woman received that mercy. Jesus is the One who gives the mercy and the repentant sinner is the one who receives the mercy. How sad to read in our text: Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last.
With His call to repent, Jesus wanted to show them/ give them mercy but the religious leaders left the One with whom there is mercy. They were too proud to plead for mercy; they did not want to repent. In no way would they say, Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner!
And what do we read? –And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. …Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman... When the others were slinking away, or even some point afterward when they had gone, this woman, too, could have left. But she didn’t. She stayed and waited to see if Jesus would have compassion/ mercy on her. She was craving mercy so she stayed and waited. She wanted what Jesus, the holy God and Lawgiver, could give her–the forgiveness of sins. This is faith! She recognized Jesus for who He really is. Look at what she calls Jesus–Lord. And she recognized Him as the Lord rightly–not just as the almighty and powerful Lawgiver but as the LOrd, the God of the OT people who is [Jl 2.13] gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, One to whom she could turn to to receive mercy.
She is there–alone–before Jesus. She is there in all her misery and guilt and shame, but she is there in faith in the One who gives mercy to the ones like her who need mercy. She gets it! She gets what the Christian faith is all about! Look at her beautiful faith.
Other religions of the world all teach that we first must make ourselves holy, perfect, acceptable before we can dare approach God. But what does the holy Christian faith say? It says that we come to Him with all of our sins, shame and guilt and He has mercy on us and forgives us our sin. What a marvelous example this woman is to us! The others were shamed by their own sin and left–not knowing and recognizing the mercy of God and that Jesus is that God, that giver of mercy; misery and mercy cannot meet if the miserable leave the Giver of mercy.
This woman stayed for the mercy and forgiveness that she, in faith, knew comes from the holy God, whom she recognized Jesus as. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you? She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Do you see what happens here? When misery and mercy meet, Divine Mercy graciously dismisses misery from His presence. That’s what we have in confession–when we go to the Lord in confession, loaded down in the misery of our sin and guilt, what does He do? He forgives us our sin in the absolution! He sends our sin and guilt packing–they are forgiven us fully and freely. That’s what Lent is all about. Use these final weeks of Lent to examine heart and conscience, recognize, sorrow and root out sin. Let that misery of sin come face to face with Divine Mercy, with that glorious absolution: Neither do I condemn you. Jesus, the only One left, who could have condemned her, didn’t; and He doesn’t condemn us because Jesus would be condemned for her and all sinners. The holy God, the holy One would suffer for her and all us sinners. Go and sin no more. We now live in this life of forgiveness and joyfully strive against sin because misery and mercy met and mercy prevails. INJ