In today’s Gospel Jesus drives home his teaching, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matthew 7:1-2). The scribes and Pharisees are looking for a trial, and they have the criminal caught in flagrante delicto and the Law on their side. The adulteress knows that too, which is why she is silent. She knew her fate was now out of her hands. The legal case is clear, and the “jury” had already convicted her and wanted the sentence to be given. She had to throw herself on the mercy of the court, but Jesus teaches us that justice and mercy are for all, so the “jury” in this case was put on trial too.
It took a just man to pronounce sentence on her; that’s what the Law prescribed. When they invited the just man, the man without sin, to come forward and throw the first stone, they found themselves on trial. They’d only come to trap Jesus in the situation, to put him on trial. They weren’t really seeking justice. They came to him as if they considered him a just man, but their actions showed they were sinners just like she was. They wanted a rubber stamp or a political scapegoat, not justice, and so they found they were the most unjust of men, and they skulked off, one by one, until only the adulteress remained, alone before the only just person who could pronounce the verdict.
When we demand justice at the expense of mercy, everyone and everything goes on trial. They walked off because they didn’t want to accept the injustice in their own lives. The Rich Young Man went away sad because he had many possessions and didn’t want to give them up to follow Jesus (see Matthew 19:22); the “jury” didn’t want to give up their pride, so they skulked off in plain sight. We have to always examine ourselves when the moment comes to stone and condemn others for what they have done. God alone is the judge. There is no mob in our conscience egging us on to cast stones at others. We stand alone with God. The other voices, one by one, leave and attend to their own consciences, knowing that they can only judge themselves so much before the case comes to the Divine Judge. In the end we too will stand speechless and hopeful for mercy, just like the adulteress.
Ashamed and silent, sorry for what we have done, we have to stand before Jesus and answer for it in the light of day. Each “jury” member that had been united around condemning another walked off alone. No one wanted to face up to Jesus for what they had done; they changed their vote with their feet. The adulteress was ready to accept her judgment. Jesus confirmed the jury’s revised verdict: since they had un-decided to condemn her, he would not condemn her either, but he also told her the truth about herself, just like he always does in each of our hearts: “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
As we being the next to last week of Lent, let’s take Our Lord’s words to heart. Let’s not put others on trial without being willing to put ourselves on trial too. Let’s stand before Our Lord and be truly sorry for our sins. Let’s have that compunction of heart to go and to sin no more. The truth about ourselves hurts sometimes, but it is the truth that sets us free.
Readings: Isaiah 43:16–21; Psalm 126:1–6; Philippians 3:8–14; John 8:1–11.