Dear Friends in Christ
Moral theologians speak of ‘sins of omission’, by which they mean the failure to act or speak out in a situation, causing those guilty of this offence to fall short of the goodness of God. Our Gospel today provides us with an example. In most modern translations of the Bible this passage is either dropped into the footnotes or placed in brackets to indicate that it did not form part of the original text. It is also missing from the oldest and best manuscripts for the Gospel of John. It is hard to figure out why and we can only speculate – perhaps a patriarchal culture and worldview rendered this beautiful incident in Jesus’ life too shocking and scandalous, revealing a depth of mercy and forgiveness which was unpalatable. We are grateful that this story, which was probably passed down by means of oral tradition, found its way into the can of Scripture.
Just as it takes two to tango, it takes two to commit adultery. This is a point worth making because what is interesting if not striking about the case or adultery before us is that the Pharisees haul the poor woman before the Lord to be judged, but her co-adulterer is nowhere to be found. The man’s absence from the drama would seem to suggest foul play.
In any event, the scheming Pharisees are looking to catch Jesus out. They have their facts wrong, however, because the law only stipulated stoning if a woman was betrothed and it required, in fact, the stoning of both parties. Their aim is to back Jesus into a corner. If he sanctioned the stoning, he would be in conflict with the Romans who did not allow the Jews to carry out capital punishment. On the other hand, if he came out against the stoning, her would be seen to condone adultery and unsupportive of the law. He permits the stoning to go ahead but only on the basis that he who is without sin throw the first stone! Ashamed, humiliated, exposed, the accusers’ leave the scene. Full of mercy and kindness, the Lord tells the woman. Neither do I condemn you…’