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 in red.
- 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.
- 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 or mercy or almsgiving, 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.
- 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.
- 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. Since we are all going to need boatloads of mercy and cannot endure strict standards of judgment, we ought well consider the need to be merciful and forgiving to others. Now on to the Gospel.
I. COLLABORATORS IN CONDEMNATION – 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. They also hope to discredit Jesus and think they have a no-win scenario for him.
In their accusatory stance, they have become collaborators with Satan. For Scripture describes Satan in this way: the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God (Rev 12:10). And thus, these Pharisees, in seeking to hand her over join Satan.
Emotionally, when we have been hurt in some way, many of us may wish to both accuse and demand punishment of the person before God. But such accusation is both unnecessary and unwise.
It is unnecessary because Satan is already accusing them “day and night” before God. It is also unnecessary because God sees and knows all things.
It is unwise for the reason we have already seen, for by demands for harsh punishment we set ourselves up to judged by the same standard. Cries for the grace and the conversion of sinners is always a better policy.
II. COUNTING THE COST – 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 a book of their own deeds. Some think perhaps he is writing their sins. Some think he is just “doodling” on the ground as a visual way of ignoring these men. Some recall that the finger of God that traced the Commandments on Stone. Still others recall the mysterious hand in the Book of Daniel who traces on the wall MENE, TEKEL, PERES announcing doom to the Babylonian King.
Whatever the case, it isn’t good. Don’t ever get Jesus writing stuff down about you!
But these Pharisees are slow to appreciate the significance. So Jesus 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 Jesus were saying to them (and to us):
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.
Gentlemen, 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. Think very carefully about it….
One by one they go away. starting with the oldest who are presumably less rash than the younger, and may have more sins!
So the message for us is clear. We will face judgment. We need to be sober about this 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? Condemnation comes at a high cost. Are you willing to store up wrath and strict justice 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. Or do you reckon more like the wise man who knows he will need grace and mercy on that day, and cannot meet a strict adjudication of his crimes.
III. CORRECTING WITH COMPASSION – The departure of the accusers leaves Jesus alone with the woman. And Jesus though gentle is clear. He says, Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.
This Gospel therefore does not make light of sin. Jesus knows well what she has done, and so does she. Jesus is clear that she must turn away from sin, not commit it anymore. What Jesus does set aside is the condemning “hang-em-high” mentality that seeks the harshest measures for every situation.
It remains true that we must sometimes correct sinners and meet out punishment. Yes, punishment is sometimes necessary, and at times it even falls to us to perform 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.
OK, you get the point: Count the Cost. Be VERY careful to remember that the measure you measure to others will be measured to you. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.
Here’s a guy who got what he gave to others:
Gotta Go to Calvary: The Ground is level at the Cross:
22 Replies to “Counting the Cost of Condemnation: A Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent”
Thanks for this wonderful post. I think that mercy is one of the hardest things to practice as a human being. Yet, oftentimes it is the things that are the most difficult that are the most important to do.
Rev. Msgr. Pope,
That’s beautiful and very true.
Only God Himself knows the heart of a sinner, his life’s history, all the circumstances.
We all R sinners. The only exception is Our Lady, Mother of God.
We should fight the evil and we have the right to defend ourselves, but we should leave the judgment of a sinner’s heart only to God Himself.
We all need Divine Mercy.
And yes, everybody should do the math and remember God’s judgment.
Your beautiful Homily reminds me the words of Merciful Jesus to Saint Sister Faustina Kowalska, put in Her “Diary”:
“The flames of mercy are burning Me. I desire to pour them out upon human souls. Oh, what pain they cause Me when they do not want to accept them! Tell aching mankind to snuggle close to My merciful Heart, and I will fill it with peace. (1074) Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy. (300)
Speak to the world about My mercy; let all mankind recognize My unfathomable mercy. It is a sign for the end times; after it will come the day of justice. While there is still time, let them have recourse to the fount of My mercy; let them profit from the Blood and Water which gushed forth for them. (848)
Before I come as a just Judge, I first open wide the doors of My mercy. He who refuses to pass through the doors of My mercy must pass through the doors of My justice. (1146)”
And we all must be merciful to obtain Divine Mercy: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.”
John Paul II forgave Ali Agca and visited him in prison and even shook his hand, although of course did not claim that Agca’s behavior was right!
Wonderful reflection as always.
I can’t help but think about how many people misconstrue the idea of mercy with acceptance. People will look at our new Holy Father’s condemnation of gay “marriage”, abortion, birth control, etc… as lacking charity. They will say he doesn’t follow Jesus’ example of mercy. But what they will miss is the last sentence, “Go and sin no more.”
It is not merciful to confirm others in their sin. Is this not one of the great modern heresies?
Thank you again,
“(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).” This is a good question. At the end of the Chapter 7 the Gospel says: John 7: 46-47: “ The ministers answered: Never did man speak like this man.  The Pharisees therefore answered them: Are you also seduced?” So, maybe they are trying to imply to Jesus that they think that He is the one who had adulterous relations with her. This is further evidenced in that at the end of Chapter 8 they try to stone Jesus also, which is what the law indicates should be done to Him if He were the adulterer. Also, there is another curiosity, at least to me, there actually is someone there without sin to cast the first stone, Jesus. He doesn’t, though He could. In Chapter 9, the Pharisees says of Jesus: ” We know that this man is a sinner. (John 9: 24)” Maybe the reason they say, “We know this man is a sinner,” is because He didn’t cast the first stone either.
The question that always exercise me is this. Why should we forgive someone whom even God cannot, in that they are manifestly in bad faith in their rejection of the truth?
For example, we know that those who persecute Christians in contempt of the faith do so because they hate us, and we have it from Jesus’ lips that they hate us because they hated Him – and therefore God – first. A good example is those Muslims who recently burned Christians out of their homes in Pakistan.
You seem to see forgiveness more as an external matter directed only to the other, than as an inward work as well that benefits us even if the other will not receive it. Forgiveness is letting go of the need to change the past. It heals us of our obsession with what others have done or not done, it relieves us of our resentment and of the terrible weight of our anger.
“Forgiveness is letting go of the need to change the past. It heals us of our obsession with what others have done or not done, it relieves us of our resentment and of the terrible weight of our anger.”
-Msgr. Charles Pope
That’s a good answer, Father. We can forgive others in the sense of letting go of our bitterness. But this does not mean we should be naively lenient. It does not mean that we ought to treat our persecutors as though God has forgiven them when clearly He has not, neither does it mean that we should not seek the imposition of temporal punishment on them in so far as they are criminals.
But it does mean we can use lesser measures and only use more severe measures when the necessary effects are not forth-coming, as the article states and the quote from Gal 6. What you call naivete is in fact a biblical principle. Further you engage in all or nothing thinking since no one is asserting here that “we should not seek the imposition of temporal punishment” Mercy is the middle ground, not the extreme you seem to pain it as.
Ah the balance of how to follow Christ in condemning sin, but not sinner. The following quote from Fulton Sheen is a reminder of our need to do Truth in love.
A Plea for Intolerance by Fulton J. Sheen
Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen
In 1931, Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen wrote the following essay:
“America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance-it is not. It is suffering from tolerance. Tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broadminded.”
“Tolerance is an attitude of reasoned patience toward evil … a forbearance that restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment. Tolerance applies only to persons … never to truth. Tolerance applies to the erring, intolerance to the error … Architects are as intolerant about sand as foundations for skyscrapers as doctors are intolerant about germs in the laboratory.
Tolerance does not apply to truth or principles. About these things we must be intolerant, and for this kind of intolerance, so much needed to rouse us from sentimental gush, I make a plea. Intolerance of this kind is the foundation of all stability.”
Yes, But I am not so sure it is fair to quote Sheen in this regard. Neither am I sure it is fair to equate forgiveness with tolerance. That is surely not what I would argue it is.
I agree that it is not fair to equate forgiveness with tolerance. However, in my experience with a wide array of persons with different ethnic, political and religious persuasions, it is exactly tolerance that is synonymous with forgiveness. Don’t tell the person who cheated you that he should make it right. Just forgive and forget (tolerate it). Don’t tell your abusive husband that you won’t tolerate his wrongheaded abuse anymore. Just forgive and forget( this one not getting as much play as it used to). The big one I have dealt with, don’t ask Father abuser to say he is sorry or to want him to be punished. Or want the bishops who protected Father abuser to be punished. Just forgive and forget.
So I have to ask, why is it not fair to quote Sheen? He seems to me to be saying what you were saying, but adding a word about the confusion between tolerance and forgiveness that seems rampant these days.
Were I to state the same thing myself, it would not have the persuasive quality Sheen does huh?
I am willing to be corrected on this matter. Perhaps I am missing something.
Well, my concern is that you seem to want to qualify the biblical text by defining down forgiveness which is a work of God and should not be thus diluted by numerous cautions and qualifications and “yes-buts” Rather the Biblical text should challenge such dilution and, as I have said, both here and in the article, forgiveness just not preclude correction and even punishment. That some undefined group of other people does not grasp this as perfectly as you might insist does not mean biblical teach should not hold sway.
If I could piggyback in here. It seems to me we often forget the import of Our Lords final admonishment. “Go and sin no more”. Isn’t this correction? This women has just been saved from an angry mod bent on her destruction and Jesus has saved her from that punishment but he does not say “hey forgive and forget”. If I heard the words “Go and sin no more” this clearly from our Lord, there would be some serious motivating to change. It goes unsaid what happens if she chooses to sin more but the implication is there. God’s Mercy is infinite so he won’t cease forgiving but he does expect correction. I would have a pass on confession for the rest of my life if one forgiveness was enough but I keep tripping up and sinning again so seek Grace and Mercy.
Tolerance in the modern usage seems to miss the whole intent of the final words. Jesus is not accepting or praising or embracing the woman’s sin, He is forgiving it and correcting her. I just do not see the use of tolerance in annmarie’s comment in this text.
Thanks, My Article covers this very specifically and I suspect Ann Marie missed it.
What we are supposed to “Forgive and forget” are sins committed against us personally.
Did someone with whom I am acquainted snub me at a social event when I tried to start a conversation? Don’t hold on to this in my memory – He may have had something else bothering him.
That’s a current example. Let go, and seek a closer relationship with the Lord. Make a visit in your parish’s Blessed Sacrament chapel, e.g.
“But now I have written to you, not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother, be a fornicator, or covetous, or a server of idols, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner: with such a one, not so much as to eat. For what have I to do to judge them that are without? Do not you judge them that are within? For them that are without, God will judge. Put away the evil one from among yourselves.” -1 Corinthians 5:11-13 in the bible
We should judge grave actions objectively and remove ourselves from bad influences.
What does this have to do with forgiveness? I think you are missing the whole point
Indeed I may be missing something. I thought forgiveness meant overlooking most things and even with the biggest offenses never seeking revenge. But it is not an offense against forgiveness to seek justice and even punishment/restitution in some cases.
Can we not judge actions but not motive or degree of guilt always avoiding revenge?
Please tell me what I am missing.
Forgiveness is letting go of the need to change the past. It heals us of our obsession with what others have done or not done, it relieves us of our resentment and of the terrible weight of our anger. It is an internal work and gift of God. It doesn’t mean pretending that nothing happened, for if nothing happened there is nothing to forgive. Forgiveness does not mean there should never be any punishment or that it is always wise to return to hostile or abusive situations. Forgiveness may help ameliorate the severity of necessary punishment and relieve us of our need to get back. But at the end of the day forgiveness is an inner work in our heart where we finally let go of our bitterness, hostility and hatred of others who have offended and harmed us.
Judgements of condemnation to Hell are wrong. Not even the Church declares anyone my name in Hell. We don’t know the state of their soul. They could have acted without full knowledge, full consent, or repented and we don’t know about it. 1 Corinthians 5:11-13
Comments are closed.