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And the maiden’s name was Mary
by Pierre-Marie Dumont
The Landing of Saint Patrick in Ireland (1912)
by Frederick Cayley Robinson (1862–1927)
The editorial of the month
by Father Sebastian White, o.p.
The season of Lent is now well under way. Its prayers and readings, familiar to us from their annual repetition, prompt us yet again to conversion of heart and a deeper awareness of our Savior and his love for us. Toward the end of the month, less than a week before Holy Week, we will hear what I consider one of the most beautiful and moving Gospel passages in our liturgy: the account of the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11). Every detail is significant and prepares us well for the Paschal Mystery.
Time and place
Consider that the story begins with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, the same place he will enter into agony the night before his crucifixion. There Jesus will become sorrowful unto the sweating of blood and yet resolutely conform his will to the Father’s. From the outset, then, the story of the woman caught in adultery reminds us that Jesus lays down his life freely for our eternal salvation.
Next, John tells us that early in the morning Jesus arrived again in the temple area. The morning is the perfect time to reveal the mercy of God, for the favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent; They are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness (Lam 3:22-23). It is not a coincidence that Mary Magdalene, in her search for the Lord’s body on Easter, finds the empty tomb early in the morning. The Temple, moreover, is where sacrifice and worship are offered to God throughout the day—the sacrifices and worship which Christ came to fulfill, for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins (Heb 10:3-4). As the Church prays in one of the Easter prefaces of the Mass: “By the oblation of his Body, he brought the sacrifices of old to fulfillment in the reality of the Cross and, by commending himself to you for our salvation, showed himself the Priest, the Altar, and the Lamb of sacrifice.”
Then—and we are only in the second verse of the story!—we are told, people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Does this not prefigure the moment that Christ would be lifted up on the cross and draw everyone to himself (Jn 12:32)? As Saint Augustine once wrote, the cross is “the chair of the Master teaching.” It was from the cross that Christ delivered the seven last words.
Accusing or advocating
The scribes and Pharisees, for their part, display an unholy parody of intercession in bringing this woman to the Lord. We should bring people before the Lord, but to present them to his mercy, not for condemnation. The scribes and Pharisees, though duplicitous and sinful in their motivations, have caught someone in a real act of sin; there is no reason to think they have fabricated this story. But how easy it is to come to the Lord grumbling, bitter, and self-righteously focused on the faults of others—real as they may be. It is often difficult to pray for someone whom we are convinced is acting wrongly or negligently, especially if we have been hurt personally. But Christ asks us to love as he loves and thus to love even our enemies. For if Christ were to love only those who love him first, or are already loveable and innocent, who could hope to be loved? Also, I find it convicting to remember that the devil is called the accuser (Rv 12:10), while Christ is called the advocate (1 Jn 2:1) and mediator (1 Tm 2:5). Uncomfortable as it might be to think of this, when we revel in accusing we do the devil’s work. When we advocate or seek reconciliation, however, we are one with the Redeemer.
Yes, this is what is so sad about this Gospel scene: of all the good things these men could say to the Son of God, they choose to play a game of accusation and entrapment. If only they had said: “Teacher, we have caught a great sinner. The law says that she should be stoned. But you have said you forgive and heal. Does that include even this grave sin?” Or, “Teacher, you have said that you have come for the sick, not the righteous. Might this apply to us and our sins, too?”
When we are tempted to waste our breath accusing others or inflating their faults, we can pray for them, trusting that when we unite our hearts to Christ’s, his love works through us, even if we don’t feel it and are still offended or wounded.
Standing in the middle
Just as the men in the Gospel made that poor woman stand in the middle, so will Jesus, out of love for her and for us, stand in the middle on the hill of Calvary, suspended between heaven and earth: there they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle (Jn 19:18). There will be three crosses on Good Friday: two sinners, one who is sinless—the one in the middle. Jesus, standing in the middle, will atone for the woman’s sins. Jesus, standing in the middle, the one who said to her: neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.
He will atone for our sins, too. Jesus lifted up on the cross shows us both the tragedy of sin—that of others and our own—and the depth of his love and mercy. Jesus embraces all of the things for which we ourselves could be dragged into the middle, all of the things we could be accused and ashamed of, all of the misguided ways we have sought for love and affirmation apart from God.
Jesus, standing in the middle, save sinners! Jesus, standing in the middle, forgive us! Jesus, standing in the middle, we adore you!(Read More)