5th Sunday of Lent (C) ///John 8:1-11 – Woman Caught in Adultery – 5th Sunday of Lent ///John 8:1-11 – Woman Caught in Adultery – 5th Sunday of Lent
5th Sunday of Lent (C)
///John 8:1-11 – Woman Caught in Adultery – 5th Sunday of Lent
///John 8:1-11 – Woman Caught in Adultery – 5th Sunday of Lent
A Woman Caught
Homilies | John 8:1-11
Commentary | Talking Points
The Context (v 1-2)
Gospel commentary excerpts from a variety of sources. Click on links to view original source material and/or read more.
The Feast of Tabernacles
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – This incident occurred about six months before Jesus’s last journey to Jerusalem. The season is the early fall and the annual pilgrim Feast of Tabernacles, also called Shelters or Booths (Jn 7:2; Lev 23:33-43; Num 29:12-38; Dt 16:16). The Mt. of Olives was to the east of Jerusalem with a gate in the city’s wall that led to the entrance to the Temple Mount. Jesus often spent the night on the Mt. of Olives or the village of Bethany on the southeast side of the mount when visiting the holy city (Mt 21:14; Mk 11:11; Lk 21:37).
SERMON WRITER – We seldom hear the word prodigal used outside the context of this parable, and people often mistakenly assume that it means “bad.” Instead, prodigal means generous, abundant, or wasteful, so prodigality is not necessarily bad. God created species and resources prodigally (abundantly), and it was good (Genesis 1:31). A philanthropist can give money prodigally (generously) to a good cause. In this parable, prodigal takes on a negative tone because the younger son “wasted his property with riotous living” (v. 13), spending his money prodigally (wastefully).
The Scribes and Pharisees
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – Jesus was on His way to the Temple to take part in the morning liturgical services and to teach the people when He met a group of scribes and Pharisees who wanted to entrap Him so they could have an excuse to arrest Him.
- The scribes were the authoritative teachers of Mosaic Law to whom rulings and legal interpretations were attributed. They are frequently identified as members of the Sanhedrin, the covenant people’s great assembly and ruling judicial body. Today, we would probably designate them as the theologians. St. Luke calls them “lawyers” in the literal Greek text (Lk 11:45-46).
- The Pharisees (“separated ones”) were the most influential religious sect within Judaism that had the most influence from the 2nd-century BC to the 1st-century AD. They were known as rigid interpreters of Mosaic Law and strict observers of ritual purity rites. Most of the scribes were Pharisees, and they are often mentioned with the Pharisees in opposing Jesus. This is why He often condemned together as a single group (Mt 15:1; 23:2, 13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29, 34; Mk 2:16; 7:1; Lk 5:21, 30; 6:7; 11:44; Jn 8:3).
The Accused (v 3)
A woman who had been
caught in adultery
The woman’s shame and fear
SERMON WRITER – It isn’t hard to imagine the shame and fear that this woman experiences in this situation. Apparently she and her partner were discovered and interrupted while having intercourse, a traumatic event in itself. Now she is thrust into a public forum where her sin is publicly announced. The charges against her call for the death penalty, and it seems quite possible that she will be brutally executed within the next few hours—and very likely denied a proper burial. It is difficult to imagine how any person could be more miserable than this woman is at this moment. All of this means nothing to her accusers, however. The scribes and Pharisees see her, not as a human being, but as a tool that they can use to entrap Jesus. They care nothing about her as a person.
What about the man?
SERMON WRITER – The law that requires the execution of the woman also requires the execution of the man who was her partner in sin. This story makes no mention of the man. In that patriarchal society, people were more likely to excuse a man than a woman for sexual sin. Also, these scribes and Pharisees need only this woman for their nefarious purposes. It is really Jesus who is on trial here. The scribes and Pharisees have seen him deal mercifully with sinners, and hope to show that he has strayed beyond the bounds of the law to do so.
The Accusation (v 4-5)
“Teacher… Moses commanded us to stone such women”
The Pharisees address Jesus
SERMON WRITER – “Teacher” would ordinarily be a respectful form of address, but in this case it is part of their scheme to entrap Jesus. First, they acknowledge Jesus as an authority. Then they will present him with a problem that they believe will impale him on the horns of a dilemma.
Justice vs. mercy and forgiveness
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – This story presents a delicate balance between justice and mercy and forgiveness and accountability for sin…
- If Jesus did not condemn the woman to death under Mosaic Law, the Pharisees would condemn Him to the people as a false Messiah who does not support Mosaic Law. Earlier, Jesus had accused them of not keeping the Law (John 7:19), and now they will get their revenge by attempting to prove that He does not keep the Law.
- However, if He condemns the woman to death, they can report Him to the Roman authorities as a traitor because He fostered rebellion by usurping the power of Roman rule unto Himself. Only Rome had authority over life and death in the Roman provinces (Jn 18:31). Treason against Rome was a capital crime punishable by crucifixion.
The Pharisees also set traps for Jesus in Matthew 19:3 on the question of divorce and in Mark 12:13-17 on the issue of Roman taxes.
The Greek word for “testing”
SERMON WRITER – Just in case we might miss the point, the narrator makes it clear that these are Jesus’ enemies and their motive is to entrap him. This word, peirazo, is the word used to describe the temptation that Jesus experienced in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1). There, like here, an opponent tried to cause Jesus to fail.
Mosaic Law prescribes the death penalty
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – In Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:13-21, and 22-29, the judgment was death for both the man and woman caught in the act of adultery. However, Scripture mentions the punishment of stoning specifically only in the case of a betrothed girl who is caught sleeping with another man or for a bride who is found by her husband not to be a virgin (Dt 22:13-21). Ezekiel 16:38-40 does provide evidence that stoning was the death penalty for all types of adultery by the 6th-century BC. However, some scholars suggest that this is a case of a betrothed girl or even more likely that of a bride being accused since stoning is the penalty in both those abuses of the Law. And, in the case of a bride, no other man would be brought forward since it would be her bridegroom who would accuse her.
🔴 CATHOLIC PRAXIS
FR. TONY KADAVIL – God imposed the death penalty in the Old Testament for all types of serious sins: for idolatry, murder, blasphemy, using the Lord’s name in vain, profaning the Sabbath, cursing or striking father and mother, kidnapping, and several sexual sins (see Ex 19, 21, 22, 31, 35 and Lv 20). The Church still teaches that there is still a “death penalty,” an eternal death penalty, associated with such grave sins. That is why we call this type of sin “mortal,” or “deadly.” When we commit such an act with full knowledge and deliberate consent, we die spiritually, we commit spiritual suicide, and we cause definitive self-separation from God.
The Pharisee’s motive: Concern for Law-keeping
or something more despicable?
SERMON WRITER – We would be remiss if we failed to acknowledge that scribes and Pharisees enforce Mosaic Law as a way of expressing their devotion to God. That happens not to be their primary motivation in this instance, but we would gut this story if we failed to acknowledge their legitimate concern for law-keeping—if we painted them as wholly evil. These aren’t the bad guys, but the good guys. The story of Jesus’ opponents is not the story of thoroughgoing badness, but is instead the story of goodness gone awry.
MSGR. JOSEPH PELLEGRINO – The leaders of the Jewish people saw in the woman an opportunity to attack Jesus. They didn’t care whether the woman lived or died; she was just a pawn in their battle against the New Kingdom of God that Jesus was proclaiming. Their actions were despicable. Some say it is the way of the world to use others to forward one’s own agenda, career, position in society, etc. If that is the case, then the way of the world is despicable. Our way needs to be the Way of the Lord… The Christian does not throw stones. The Christian bathes people with mercy.
Jesus Wrote on the Ground (v 6, 8)
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger
Jesus bends down
FR. SEBASTIAN WALSHE – Jesus bends down and begins to write in the earth. And this is all done in silence. What does this mean? St. Thomas Aquinas, with the keenness of his mystical insight, says that this action signifies that God in his mercy is stooping down to assist sinful humanity. In fact, he says, that whenever Jesus stoops down, this signifies an act of God’s mercy, and that whenever he stands up straight, this signifies and act of God’s justice… But what does the writing in the earth signify? Once again, Thomas penetrates into the mystery.
Two Greek words used for “write”
- VERSE 6: The Greek word there is katagraphein. It appears only once in the New Testament, and that is here. It doesn’t exactly mean “write”—that would be graphein—but katagraphein means “to write down into,” or simply “to engrave.” And although it doesn’t appear elsewhere in the New Testament, it does appear sometimes in the Greek version of the Old Testament, and almost always in relation to a single event: when God engraves the commandments with his finger in the tablets of stone. So the Fathers of the Church say that Jesus is here writing the commandments into the earth.
- VERSE 8: This time Jesus begins to write again, but the word now is graphein. He is not engraving but simply writing lightly in the earth. And the Fathers of the Church tell us that now he is writing their sins, but lightly as if to indicate that these can be easily wiped away if only they will accept that they too need God’s mercy. Jesus is revealing to them that he knows their hidden sins too.
Clipart by Fr. Richard Lonsdale © 2000. Click image to view more clipart for this Sunday.
It’s not WHAT Jesus was writing, but WHERE
DEACON GREG KANDRA – He wrote “on the ground” — in sand or dust or gravel. Whatever he wrote wasn’t preserved in ink. It wasn’t inscribed in stone. It was meant to be brushed away, or blown away, or kicked aside. It was impermanent. By the grace of God and our repentance, so are our sins. We began the season of Lent hearing that we need to remember that we are dust, and to dust we will return. This moment in scripture, coming near the end of this penitential season, serves to remind us of our fleeting time on this earth — and, in the context of Lent, it also reminds us that our sins can be wiped away, erased, scattered in the wind…. A wave of the hand, a stirring of wind, and the ground — the dusty surface from which we are made, and on which the story of our life is written — can be made new. Sin doesn’t have to be forever. Do we want to leave it behind? We can. It can all be wiped away.
Did Jesus write a verse from Jeremiah?
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – Perhaps, He was writing a Scripture passage to comfort the distraught woman. In that case, Jeremiah 17:13-18 is a likely passage that He may have written. It offers comfort and links this incident to writing on the earth and the declaration of the living water He spoke of the day before in John 7:38-39.
“All who abandon you will be put to shame, those who turn from you will be registered in the underworld [or more literally, “written on the earth”] since they have abandoned Yahweh, the fountain of living water” (Jeremiah 17:13)
The Challenge (v 7)
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Legally, no one present qualified
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – Perhaps it is not so much a case of none of them being guilty of sin as none of them being able to truthfully, without sinning, offering themselves as witnesses against her because none of them had seen her commit the act of adultery, nor could they produce the husband. If that was the case, no one present was qualified to cast the first stone. The punishment for witnesses giving false testimony was excommunication or, in a death penalty case, the penalty for false testimony was death (Num 15:30; Dt 19:16-21). Perhaps they were not willing to risk their own lives!
The Convicted (v 9)
They went away one by one
Jesus resets the trap
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – The oldest and wisest Pharisees were the first to understand Jesus’s trap. They would have reasoned: “If we stone her anyway, even though there are no honest witnesses, the Romans will ask why we took her death sentence upon ourselves, and we will say, “Jesus told us to stone her.” But He will say He told those honest witnesses who were without sin to do the stoning, and that doesn’t mean us because we know He has chastised us for our sins in the past; everyone knows this! Therefore,” they would have concluded, “It could be said that we did it on our own authority!” Jesus reset the trap. He neither authorizes the stoning nor contradicts Mosaic Law. There is no way for them to recover from His trap except to walk away as sinners discredited in the eyes of the people!
🔴 CATHOLIC PRAXIS
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – The Church demands the tempering of justice with mercy. Mercy does not mean the forgiveness of sin without consequence or accountability but that the circumstances that led to sin or the degree of contrition can promote the granting of mercy. In this case, the woman, who may have been purposely entrapped, has lost her family and her husband. Her life will be extremely difficult, yet her life was spared. St. Augustine wrote:
“The two of them were left on their own, the wretched woman and Mercy … gently he asks her, ‘Has no one condemned you?’ She replies, ‘No one, Lord.’ And he says, ‘Neither do I condemn you; I who perhaps you feared would punish you because in me you have found no sin.’ Lord, can it be that you favor sinners? Assuredly not. See what follows: ‘Go and sin no more.’ Therefore, the Lord also condemned sin, but not the woman” (St. Augustine, In Ioann. Evang., 33, 5-6).
The Cleansing (v 10-11)
Has no one condemned you?… Neither do I
Young Daniel and Susana
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – his incident with the woman accused of adultery reminds us of the Old Testament story of the righteous woman falsely accused of adultery in the Book of Daniel chapter 13. When Susanna was condemned to death by the elders, young Daniel, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out, “Are you so stupid, children of Israel, as to condemn a daughter of Israel unheard, and without troubling to find out the truth?” (Dan 13:48). However, unlike Susanna, the woman brought before Jesus does not seem to be entirely innocent because Jesus commands her to “go away and sin no more.”
Why Jesus did not judge the woman?
DR. KIERAN O’MAHONY – Thus far the woman has been treated as an object, a pawn in male theological disputes. Jesus treats her as a human being and addresses her respectfully (woman = our “ma’am”).
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – Jesus did not judge the woman because His purpose was to elude the Pharisees’ trap and show the crowd the extent of their sins. Jesus also stated His mission was not to judge the world at this time but to save it (Jn 8:16; 12:47). He condemns her sin, but He gives the woman the chance to take the path to salvation through her repentance, just as He offers us all the same forgiveness and mercy. His mercy does not negate her accountability for sin; she still has to live with the consequences and suffering associated with her actions. His judgment will come later at the end of her life, and by that time, she has had the opportunity to atone for her transgressions through His death and Resurrection (see CCC#1441-3; 1846).
Hate the sin, love the sinner
FR. GEORGE SMIGA – No person should be equated with his or her sin. People are responsible for their sins, but no person should be defined simply by the sins they commit. Jesus sees the sin of the woman but he sees something more. He also sees the part of the woman that remains good, the part that could change, the hope that things could be different. This basic insight of Jesus has been reflected through subsequent centuries in Catholic teaching. For Catholics believe that the dignity and worth of every person remains despite the crimes or sins they may commit. Regardless of the horrible things that people do, we continue to believe that the image of God within them is never completely erased.
Admonishing the sinner
FR. JAMES HUDGINS – How was Jesus most compassionate toward that poor woman? Was it dispersing the crowds who were trying to kill her? It was not. The most compassionate thing Christ did was to tell the woman to avoid her sin. The first action saved her life, but the second may well have saved her immortal soul. Have we forgotten that to admonish the sinner is a spiritual work of mercy? Not to pass a judgment on someone. Not to tell them “You’re guilty,” but to recognize sin for what it is, call it by its name, and tell those we love to avoid it. We don’t do that very well. We speak all sorts of sociological babble instead. We say that some behavior is “inappropriate” or “unacceptable,” but how often do we tell those we love the clear difference between right and wrong?
Related Page: Discussion Questions
CROSS REFERENCES SOURCE: B. Blayney, Thomas Scott, and R.A. Torrey with John Canne, Browne, The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, vol. 2 (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, n.d.).
1. Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
2. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
3. And the Scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4. They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6. This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8. And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11. She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
ALCUIN. Our Lord at the time of His passion used to spend the day in Jerusalem, preaching in the temple, and performing miracles, and return in the evening to Bethany, where He lodged with the sisters of Lazarus. Thus on the last day of the feast, having, according to His wont, preached the whole day in the temple, in the evening He went to the mount of Olives.
AUGUSTINE. (Tract. xxxiii. 3) And where ought Christ to teach, except on the mount of Olives; on the mount of ointment, on the mount of chrism. For the name Christ is from chrism, chrism being the Greek word for unction. He has anointed us, for wrestling with the devil.
ALCUIN. The anointing with oil is a relief to the limbs, when wearied and in pain. The mount of Olives also denotes the height of our Lord’s pity, olive in the Greek signifying pity. The qualities of oil are such as to fit in to this mystical meaning. For it floats above all other liquids: and the Psalmist says, Thy mercy is over all Thy works. And early in the morning, He came again into the temple: (Ps. 144) i. e. to denote the giving and unfolding of His mercy, i. e. the now dawning light of the New Testament in the faithful, that is, in His temple. His returning early in the morning, signifies the new rise of grace.
BEDE. And next it is signified, that after He began to dwell by grace in His temple, i. e. in the Church, men from all nations would believe in Him: And all the people came to Him, and He sat down and taught them.
AUGUSTINE. (Tract. xxxiii. s. 4) They had remarked upon Him already, as being over lenient. Of Him indeed it had been prophesied, Ride on because of the word of truth, of meekness, and of righteousness. (Ps. 44) So as a teacher He exhibited truth, as a deliverer meekness, as a judge righteousness. When He spoke, His truth was acknowledged; when against His enemies He used no violence, His meekness was praised. So they raised the scandal on the score of justice. For they said among themselves, If He decide to let her go, He will not do justice; for the law cannot command what is unjust: Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but to maintain His meekness, which has made Him already so acceptable to the people, He must decide to let her go. Wherefore they demand His opinion: And what sayest Thou? hoping to find an occasion to accuse Him, as a transgressor of the law: And this they said tempting Him, that they might have to accuse Him. But our Lord in His answer both maintained His justice, and departed not from meekness. Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground.
AUGUSTINE. (de Con. Evang. lib. ii. c. 10) As if to signify that such persons were to be written in earth, not in heaven, where He told His disciples they should rejoice they were written. Or His bowing His head (to write on the ground), is an expression of humility; the writing on the ground signifying that His law was written on the earth which bore fruit, not on the barren stone, as before.
ALCUIN. The ground denotes the human heart, which yieldeth the fruit either of good or of bad actions: the finger jointed and flexible, discretion. He instructs us then, when we see any faults in our neighbours, not immediately and rashly to condemn them, but after searching our own hearts to begin with, to examine them attentively with the finger of discretion.
BEDE. His writing with His finger on the ground perhaps shewed, that it was He who had written the law on stone.
So when they continued asking Him, He lifted Himself up.
GREGORY. For he who judges not himself first, cannot know how to judge correctly in the case of another. For though He know what the offence is, from being told, yet He cannot judge of another’s deserts, who supposing himself innocent, will not apply the rule of justice to himself.
AUGUSTINE. (Tract. xxxiii. 5) Having with the weapon of justice smitten them, He deigned not even to look on the fallen, but averted His eyes: And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
ALCUIN. This is like our Lord; while His eyes are fixed, and He seems attending to something else, He gives the bystanders an opportunity of retiring: a tacit admonition to us to consider always both before we condemn a brother for a sin, and after we have punished him, whether we are not guilty ourselves of the same fault, or others as bad.
AUGUSTINE. (Tract. xxxiii. s. 5) Thus smitten then with the voice of justice, as with a weapon, they examine themselves, find themselves guilty, and one by one retire: And they which heard it, went out one by one, beginning at the eldesta.
GLOSS. The more guilty of them, perhaps, or those who were more conscious of their faults.
AUGUSTINE. (Tract. xxxiii. 5, 6) There were left however two, the pitiable1 and the pitiful, And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst: the woman, you may suppose, in great alarm, expecting punishment from one in whom no sin could be found. But He who had repelled her adversaries with the word of justice, lifted on her the eyes of mercy, and asked; When Jesus had lifted Himself up, and saw none but the woman, He said unto her, Woman, where are these thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. We heard above the voice of justice; let us hear now that of mercy: Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee; I, who thou fearedst would condemn thee, because thou foundest no fault in me. What then, Lord? Dost Thou favour sin? No, surely. Listen to what follows, Go, and sin no more. So then our Lord condemned sin, but not the sinner. For did He favour sin, He would have said, Go, and live as thou wilt: depend on my deliverance: howsoever great thy sins be, it matters not: I will deliver thee from hell, and its tormentors. But He did not say this. Let those attend, who love the Lord’s mercy, and fear His truth. Truly, Gracious and righteous is the Lord. (Ps. 35:7)
SOURCE: eCatholic 2000 Commentary in public domain.
Hearers of the Word
KIERAN 0’MAHONY, OSA – Augustinian friar and biblical scholar, currently assisting in Donnybrook parish (Dublin). He provides notes and commentaries in four formats: 1. PDF — the full notes, including weekday introductions, 5 pages. 2. The gospel notes only in audio format. 3. The gospel notes presented in a portable format suitable for smartphones and tablets. 4. YouTube video: A further exploration of the Gospel (usually) from a different angle.
Mass Readings Explained
DR BRANT PITRE – In the Gospel of John, the story of the woman caught in adultery is perhaps as famous as any other section of the Gospel. This story is a perfect example of how Jesus not just calls but exhibits in himself the principle we are to employ in our own lives: Hate the sin and love the sinner. In this story, we see Jesus uniting justice and mercy as he does perfectly on the cross as well. For, he forgives the woman (which presupposes a real wrong to be forgiven of) and he commands the woman to sin no more. Jesus does not fall into the contemporary error of thinking we need to love and approve of the sin in order the love the sinner, or that if we have to hate the sin we necessarily have to hate the sinner. To the contrary, we see the Lord paving the way for how we are to engage others who may have committed offense against us: we extend mercy and forgiveness of the person and implore them to cease sinning so that, as Jesus also says, they may not perish. For more information, click here.
The Word Exposed
CARDINAL LUIS ANTONIO TAGLE – The Word Exposed with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples reflects on Sunday’s Mass readings each week. From the Vatican, produced by Jesuit Communications.
A Walk in the Word
Unpacking the Mass
KEITH NESTER – Former protestant pastor and Catholic convert Keith Nester engages in an exploration of the weekly texts from the Mass.
Centre for Christian Spirituality
The Word Proclaimed Institute
FR. FRANCIS MARTIN – Fr. Francis Martin +August 11, 2017, taught at the Gregorian University in Rome, the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, Catholic University in Washington, D.C., Franciscan University of Steubenville), and the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C.