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The Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C

The Woman Caught in Adultery 

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...In closing for today, I’d just like to end with a quote from Augustine. He wrote a very beautiful series of homilies on the Gospel of John. And although the story of the woman caught in adultery is missing from some ancient Greek copies of John’s gospel, it’s not missing (or at least it wasn’t missing from St. Augustine’s ancient Latin copy of the gospel), so we’re blessed to have one of his homilies on this. One of the things Augustine wrestles with in his homily is the question of, “Is God condoning the sin of the adulteress by not having her put to death?” Isn’t God being a little too lenient here with what is obviously a very serious sin? Adultery is a grave sin. It not only violates the Ten Commandments, it breaks the marital covenant, it destroys families; it destroys homes. Think of all the human pain and suffering and tears and heartache and children who’ve been hurt by the sin of adultery. This is a very serious sin. How can Jesus just let the woman go and say, “Go and sin no more.”? What do we make of this act of our Lord? So Augustine looks at this passage that actually scandalized some Christians, and this is what he said about Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery:

[L]ook at the way our Lord’s answer upheld justice without forgoing clemency. He was not caught in the scare his enemies had laid for him; it is they themselves who were caught in it. He did not say the woman should not be stoned, for then it would look as though he were opposing the law. But he had no intention of saying: ‘Let her be stoned’, because he came not to destroy those he found but to seek those who were lost. Mark his reply. It contains justice, clemency, and truth in full measure... What is this, Lord, are you giving approval to immorality? Not at all. Take note of what follows: “Go and sin no more.” You see then that the Lord does indeed pass sentence, but it is sin he condemns, not people. One who would have approved of immorality would have said: ‘Neither will I condemn you. Go and live as you please; you can be sure that I will acquit you. However much you sin, I will release you from all penalty, and from the tortures of hell and the underworld’. He did not say that. He said: ‘Neither will I condemn you’: you need have no fear of the past, but beware of what you do in the future. ‘Neither will I condemn you’: I have blotted out what you have done; now observe what I have commanded, in order to obtain what I have promised.

And I’ll just say, especially to all those Catechumens coming into the Church at Easter time, remember this: what’s past is past. The Lord does not condemn you for what you have done. Now, go, sin no more and live a new life in Christ, either through the waters of baptism for those who are coming into the Church or through the graces of confession for those of us who are in it. Let us enter into the Easter season turning away from sin and turning our hearts and our minds to God.

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