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Jesus is mercy, not judgment

Thought for the weekend

By Fr Patrick McCafferty

A woman is brought before Jesus one day as He was teaching in the Temple. She is made to stand in full view of everyone. Her fate is sealed because she "was caught in the very act of committing adultery". The Law commands that she be executed by stoning (see John 8:1-11).

A brutal and unyielding dynamic is at work. Not only are the custodians of the Law - the Scribes and the Pharisees - intent upon the destruction of the woman, they are also "looking for something to use against Him" (John 8:6).

We take careful note of how He, Who is Mercy incarnate, acts in this scenario. He is aware of the shamed and guilty woman who has no defence. He is conscious that His enemies are trying to catch Him out. So He starts writing on the ground. Some have attempted to guess at what He wrote. Was he listing the sins of the woman's accusers? We are not told. Rather the gesture itself speaks to us sufficiently.

The Lord Jesus is unperturbed at the intrusion of pitiless self-righteousness. It's as if the Lord, bored by their hubris, started doodling on the ground. We don't know what He wrote on the ground but we know what He said: "If there is one of you who has not sinned let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7-8).

The Lord Jesus writes merciful love without end upon the scarred, bleeding and wounded ground of our human existence. He who knows well the inmost hearts of the condemned woman's accusers, He who knew all their sins beginning with the oldest, does not shame even them.

On the ground, where there would have fallen a rain of jagged rocks upon a poor woman, on the ground that would have been stained with her blood, there is, instead, the gentle hand of the Saviour writing.

God's response to the shame of our sins is not condemnation and severe judgement but tender mercy which removes shame and restores lost dignity.

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Most especially, we see His gentle compassion in what He says to the shamed woman: "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? … Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more" (John 8:10-11).

It is this compassionate and merciful forgiveness that you and I must reproduce. We must copy it - writing it upon the very earth. Mercy wins.

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