In his weekly Angelus address Sunday, Pope Francis commented on the meeting of Jesus with an adulterous woman, observing that the woman is an image of all humanity, since we are all “adulterers” who have cheated on God’s love.
In his reflection on the Sunday gospel reading, the Pope recalled the episode where a group of Pharisees drag a woman caught in adultery before Jesus to see how he will react, reminding him that Moses prescribed stoning for this sin and hoping to trap him in his response. Rather than take a stand on her punishment, Jesus suggests that the one with no sin on his own conscience be the first to throw a stone at her.
“This woman represents all of us, since we are sinners, that is, adulterers before God, traitors of his faithfulness,” Francis said.
On this, the third anniversary of his pontificate, Pope Francis told the crowd of thousands gathered in Saint Peter’s Square that the story is one of his favorite passages in the Bible, that he likes to “read and reread” often. It highlights the theme of the mercy of God, he said, “who never wills the death of the sinner but that he be converted and live.”
Francis noted that the Pharisees weren’t really looking for Jesus’ opinion on the Mosaic teaching but rather were trying to ensnare him in a catch-22 situation. Either Jesus contradicts the Law of Moses by recommending leniency, thus alienating himself from his Jewish followers, or he takes a hardline stance and recommends the stoning of the woman, thus betraying his own call to gentleness and mercy.
Instead, Francis notes, Jesus escapes from their trap by suggesting that the one who is without sin cast the first stone, and they all leave one by one, beginning with the eldest.
And so once all the Pharisees have walked away, Jesus turns to the woman and says, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she replies.
And Jesus answers: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.”
Though we only know of this woman by the title “the adulteress,” Francis said, this label does not do justice to her, because Jesus sees the person beyond her sin and desires her salvation.
The Pope reminded his hearers that we should not identify ourselves or others by our inclinations toward sinful behavior, a tendency all too common in today’s world.
“God does not nail us to our sin,” Francis said, “and he does not identify us with the evil we have done. We have a name, and God does not identify this name with the sin we have committed.”
Jesus makes the woman feel, perhaps for the first time, that she “is not her sin, that she has a dignity of a person; that she can change her life and escape from her bondage and walk in a new way,” he said. Because every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.
We would all do well, Francis added, to “have the courage to drop the stones we carry to throw at others, and think a bit on our own sins!”
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