Counting the Cost of Condemnation

The Gospel for today’s Mass is the well known Gospel of the woman caught in adultery.  In this Gospel the Lord reasons with the men of his day (and with us) that the severe justice they want to render to this woman may be an unwise stance as they themselves prepare for their own judgment.

Before we look any further at the details of this Gospel consider with me a few background texts that may help us to grasp better what Jesus is teaching. After each verse I will give a brief commentary.

  1. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matt 5:7) Notice here that it is the merciful who will obtain mercy. It is those who have shown proper mercy that will be granted mercy on the Day of judgment. By implication, the severe and those who lack mercy will be judged severely by the Lord.
  2. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37-38) Here the text clearly states that if you or I use a severe standard of judgment, that same severe standard will be used by the Lord when he judges us. On the other hand if we are forgiving, merciful and generous then we can expect a merciful, generous and kind judgment from God.
  3. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged under the law of freedom, for  judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:12-13) Here too James warns us by reminding us first of all, that we are going to be judged  by the Lord. Secondly, since we are free we are therefore responsible for what we do. Thirdly, since we are going to face this judgment in which we cannot pass off blame to others for what we have freely done we’d better realize that our judgment will be without mercy if we have not shown mercy. Ah but if we have shown mercy we stand a chance for mercy will triumph over strict judgment.
  4. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Mat 6:14-15) This warning seems clear enough that if we want to find forgiveness on the day of judgment we had better seek the grace to forgive others.

All of these texts seem to teach a bold truth that we are actually able to influence the standard that the Lord will use on the day of our judgment. The measure we use for others will be measured back to us. If we have been merciful we will find mercy. But if we have been harsh, unbending, and unmerciful the Lord will use a far stricter standard by which to judge us. We need to be sober about this. We are storing up things for the day of judgment by the way we treat others. Now on to the Gospel.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees bring a woman caught in the very act of adultery. It is clear she is guilty of this offense. (However a curiosity exists. She was caught in the very act, so the man involved is also surely known. Where is he and why has he not be brought forward?  The Law of Moses also indicates that the man should be stoned). Now the accusers want to throw the book at her. They want the most strict punishment meted out. They want her stoned.

Jesus who as God knows all their sins must be amazed. Surely they cannot be serious in demanding this if they consider the day of their own judgment?! He bends down and traces his finger on the ground almost as though his finger was tracing back and forth as he read what was recorded of them in the book.  So he tries to reason with them and says, “Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone!”  Then he bends down again and continues tracing or writing on the ground. It is almost as though he were saying:

“Reason with me men, if you demand strict justice, if you insist that I throw the book at her, let’s first look and see what there is about you in the book. If she is to be judged strictly and without mercy then you too will face the same standard you demand for her. There are things in the book about you, serious things. Have you counted the cost of condemning this woman? Are you sure you want to go on demanding that I throw the book at her? Think about it men.”

One by one they go away starting with the oldest who are presumably less rash than the younger and may have more sins! Soon Jesus is alone with the woman. He does not condemn her but warns her not to commit this sin again.

So the message for us is clear. We will face judgment. Sober about that fact we need to count the cost of our being unmerciful, unforgiving and vengeful. The measure that we use for others with be the measure God uses for us. What kind of judgment are you preparing for yourself?  Be careful to count the cost.

It remains true that we must sometimes correct sinners and meet out punishment. Jesus is compassionate with this woman but he warns her not to sin again. Punishment is sometimes necessary and at times it falls to us to issue it. Perhaps we are a parent, a juror, or someone in a supervisory role. But before we rush to the most extreme measures we do well to show mercy and use lesser measures first. St. Paul has good advice: Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should gently set him right. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted  (Gal 6:1) Gentle and clear correction is the best course, more significant punishments should be a later recourse. We must be careful not to be tempted to harshness, anger, lack of mercy and lack of love.

Count the cost. Condemnation comes at a high cost. Are you willing to store up wrath for the day of your judgment in this regard? On the other hand, gentleness, compassionate correction, and merciful love will also be reckoned to us if we show it to others. Do the math, remember judgment.







11 Replies to “Counting the Cost of Condemnation”

  1. I’ve always been touched by this episode, but there is something about it that does not ring true. Either that or, notwithstanding the many admonishments by Jesus, perhaps the folks of that time were a whole lot better people, more honest with themselves, than we are today.

    If Jesus were to appear and say the same thing today — “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” — I would not be at all surprised if the response was a deluge of rocks being hurled at the woman, rather than the people dropping them and walking away. The mindset of today seems to be, in too many cases, that we are without sin, that we have done nothing wrong, that Jesus may have been speaking about all the other nasty disgusting people around us — sinners all — but we ourselves are perfectly good. Hence, we do get to cast that stone, and with a vengence!

    Yes, the crowd in the account of the adulteress are better people than we are today.

  2. Unforgiveness could well be the biggest blob that people carry around in their knapsacks. In our school of healing prayer we had one participant who after considerable prayer for inner healing could not forgive. The Holy Spirit just couldn’t reach her. We find this everywhere, even among close family and friends.

  3. If Jesus were to appear and say the same thing today — “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” — I would not be at all surprised if the response was a deluge of rocks being hurled at the woman, rather than the people dropping them and walking away.

    Except that I feel that there is the truly miraculous here. There seems to be something very important to the story about Jesus writing on the sand. Msgr. Pope makes the allusion to the book of life. I believe, that if I were in the presence of the Christ, I would indeed be fearful to cast the first stone. That applies to today,for only if I can allow myself to feel that I am in His Presence, perhaps I would be less mindful to judge. Maybe that is a point that can be made about the story. And yet He questions the woman after the crowd has left, leaving her to speak about whether or not there was a judgement. It is as though He has left all human judgment to each and every person, including the woman. And yet they are in the Divine Presence. It is not therefore, that I feel that I might be without sin,if I cast a stone, so much as I forget that I am always in the Divine Presence, and yet if God has given free will; perhaps this story illustrates, once again, that we are not necessarily exercising our freedom when we cast stones. I like what Msgr. Pope says – education is far better than punishment, or even negativity. I still would like to understand what Heidegger is getting at when he speaks out that we need to learn to think and speak with praise. Just a bit more of my philosophizing. Really don’t know about the general truth or possibilities of speaking of all that is in the world with praise. So more understanding is necessary there. (Maybe praise is the opposite of casting stones…. just a thought!) Thanks for another good post, father.

  4. I have always thought that when reading scripture that judgement and punishment were indivisible, sort of like faith and joyful hope. In other words, when God judges… fiat, its done, your punishment is carried out. There is about as big a gap as there is between willing your eyes open and their obedience. When I hear someone complain that such and such person is judging them… I wonder if thats just a fashionable way of saying, I dont need to listen because there is no authority behind those words. So if the bible says not to judge others, I feel its not about our words, but our actions which are tied to the judgment just as in the case of the divine. Just a thought…

  5. Bender, I think that while many people today would indeed view themselves as sinless, that is because they do not believe in sin at all. Thus there would be no deluge of rocks, but perhaps some pats on the back of the woman for expressing her independence from her husband. Too many people (including yourself if I understood your tone properly) today look with disgust and disdain at those who are “self-righteous” enough to talk about the sin of others. It is not those “self-righteous” people who view themselves as without sin, however. Most good, Christian people who are concerned with sin are the same people who frequent the sacraments (especially Confession) the most. This is because they realize there is sin and that they too are sinners.

    I propose that the biggest problem with Christians today is not that they view themselves as without sin, but that they would not join Christ in saying “sin no more”.

  6. Corrections:
    re: forget that I am always in the Divine Presence, should be, forget that I can always be in the Divine Presence, as Jesus saying whenever two or more of you gather in My Name. (This may not be exact).
    re: about the general truth, should be, know whether this could ever be a general truth or even a possibility that we could speak of all that is in the world with praise.
    Another comment: I find it interesting that he asks the women if people have condemned her, and when she answers ‘no’, he says THEN I won’t condemn you as if a final judgment would take into consideration the capacity of all people not to judge or condemn, as in the Eastern Orthodox Church, perhaps. We would surely then have to be with, through and in Christ for that to happen. Wouldn’t we. Maybe I’m reading in here, but there is something very interesting about Jesus not exercising, as though purposely, the Capacity of Christ, as in that blog on the church in Washington, to be Our Merciful Judge. Maybe because he knows that the Pharisees and Scribes are doing just that – asking him to be the Judge – so he absents himself from this possibility visibly, by writing on the sand. This scripture is so inspiring and interesting. Thanks again. I’m through this time, for sure. I know I do go on, and on. Thanks.

  7. At Mass today, the celebrant mentioned what it was that Jesus might have been writing. He brought up the theory I’ve heard before that Jesus might have been writing the sins of the various people there. I see that the Pope in his Angelus address today points out that it was the finger of God that wrote the Ten Commandments, so perhaps what Jesus wrote was related to that?

    But as I was sitting in Mass, the thought occurred to me (or maybe I just remembered someone suggesting it before) another time in the Bible involving God writing with His finger — when onlookers literally saw the disembodied hand of God writing on the wall with His finger —
    (Daniel 5:5, 25)

    The Gospel doesn’t say, but if that is what Jesus wrote on the ground, I can understand how, seeing that, the people would have been really spooked, enough to get out of there as quickly as possible.

    Would God write that about us today?

    * MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought an end to it;
    TEKEL, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting;
    PERES, your kingdom is divided and given [to others]

  8. The Holy Father said, “Jesus is Justice in person”. What did he mean by “in person”?

    1. Justice is not a mere philosophical concept. Just as Love and Truth are not mere philosophical concepts. They are transcendent living realities. Jesus, in His very being, as part of His very nature, is Justice. He is “justice incarnate” (as Zenit translates it) and “justice in person” (as Teresa Benedetta translates it).

  9. Mons. Pope, you’ve answered my question from this morning’s gospel. Where was the man, just as guilty?
    I’ve often wondered about that as to why only the woman was accused and to be stoned.
    So the law applied to him as well. I knew there had to be more justice in Mosaic law.
    Thank you.

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