The gospel for the fifth and last Sunday in Lent narrates the scene of the woman caught in adultery. The text indicates that the Pharisees were “testing” Jesus. It is a test because there is no easy way out: Jesus either sides with obeying Mosaic Law and the woman will be executed cruelly, or he will stop the execution, breaking the Law and getting himself arrested. It seems the Pharisees loved to corner Jesus in these kinds of dilemmas often—the one about the taxes to Caesar comes to mind. Interestingly, the prescribed punishment (death penalty) is worse than the accusation (adultery.) Also, we wonder where the adulterous man is, as it takes two to commit adultery. Once again, Jesus’ keen eye for human nature finds him a way to elude the dilemma.
Jesus knew about human nature. He knew that we all have sinned, we all have failed, we all have hurt people and we all have done things in the past that we now regret. Thus, the older the person was, the faster he dropped the stone and hurried out of the scene. Jesus did not deny there was a sin—he tells the woman “not to sin anymore.” He simply made people see that once we look honestly at our own lives we may realize we have no right to judge and punish others.
As we conclude our Lent, this gospel invites us to do just that: avoid judging, by examining our own sinfulness, by taking stock of our own lives and realizing that we have no right to judge others. The reading of this gospel reminded me of Pope Francis when he was asked about homosexuals in the Church. He simply replied, “Who am I to judge?” This answer would have shown anybody’s humility, but it is especially amazing when it is said by someone with the Holy Father’s power and influence over millions of individuals.
The sooner I realize my own sinfulness, the sooner I can begin to experience God’s Mercy in my life. The sooner I stop judging and condemning others, the sooner I can begin to experience the God described in the Old Testament reading, the Lord “who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters… who remembers not the events of the past, the things of long ago considers not…” The Lord who says, “I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers. I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, the people whom I formed for myself.”
The sooner I cease judgment of others, the sooner I let God open a way in the desert of my sinfulness.