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Meditation of Archbishop Pizzaballa: Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C

Published: April 05 Fri, 2019

April 7, 2019

Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C

In today’s Gospel passage (John 8:1-11), we see Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, who teaches the crowd that runs to Him.

He sits, like a teacher, and the scene recalls that of Moses who, from morning till evening, sat in the camp resolving questions that arose among the people (Exodus 18:23 ff): the people went to him “to consult God,” to know His decrees and laws (Exodus 18:16).

Also in today’s Gospel a group of people goes to Jesus with a question related to the Law: they found a woman in adultery, and they know that the Law says to stone her.

They go to Jesus not to know what the Law said in this regard because they show that they know it well.

The evangelist informs us that they go there not to solve a problem (like the Israelites did in the desert with Moses), but to put Him to the test and to have the accusation against Him (Jn 8: 6): accusing the woman, they actually want to accuse Jesus.

The first thing we notice is the distance that the accusers keep from this woman, as if she were someone who in no way has anything to do with their lives: they put her in the middle (Jn 8:3), exposing her to everyone’s judgment; then, always in front of everyone, they tell of her guilt (Jn 8:4) and call her “such a woman” (Jn 8:5).

And their attitude, as always occurs in one who feels he’s on the side of truth, is insistent (Jn 8:7), so that when Jesus seems to not listen to them, they do not give up and continue to call Jesus into question.

They keep away from this woman, because they feel far from sin, from evil; as if the sin were hers alone, this woman’s, and as if it was only this woman’s sin.

What Jesus does is to cancel the distances between the woman and her accusers.

He takes the woman from the center, where she is alone with her sin, and He puts, along with all of them: “Which of you …?” (Jn 8:7). The invitation is to recognize that the same sin that lives in her also lives in them. The invitation is to no longer see the woman as a stranger, a different one, to accuse without getting involved; but to recognize oneself in her, to mirror oneself in her. To recognize that every man is equally a sinner before God, and only He can be judge of the heart of man.

Jesus, in all this dialogue, remains seated, indeed bowed, to write on the ground.

It is a strange gesture, of which we take two aspects: while the inquiring gaze of the accusers was fixed on the woman and fixed on Jesus, Jesus does not return with an equal gaze.

And then He writes on the ground, and what is written on the ground, on the dust, does not remain long: thus is the memory that God has of our sins, as of something written on the sand, which disappears at the first gust of wind.

From that position Jesus stands up only to talk to the woman, to whom no one had yet spoken. He asks her two questions, which have the flavor of liberation: Woman, where are they? Has anyone condemned you? (Jn 8:10)

He asks nothing of her sin, of what she has done, does not reproach it, does not look to the past; His gaze is forward, it is “from now on” (Jn 8:11).

The encounter with Jesus marks a watershed for everyone. For the accusers, because from now on they will no longer be able to accuse anyone without remembering to be equally complicit in the evil they see in the other. And then for the woman, for whom there seemed to be no future.

Instead, the future is there, and it comes from the encounter with a Man who looked at her with mercy, with a look He transformed his life.

The evangelist says nothing of the woman’s feelings, of her possible repentance: the Lord’s forgiveness arrives absolutely free, unexpected, before any conversion.

But it is precisely this experience that can truly transform the heart, offering it a real chance to feel the weight of one’s sin and to start a new life, in which to try to reciprocate the love received.


Cover photo: ©Wikimedia Commons