“Transformative Indifference” – Fifth Sunday of Lent

Is 43: 16-21
Ps 126: 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Phil 3: 8-14
Jn 8:1-11

One thing that puzzles me about the gospel passage we have today is that Jesus did not explicitly forgive the woman. While it is wise to provoke such thought to the Pharisees and the rest, telling them “to throw a stone at her” if there is anyone among them “who is without sin”, it is obvious that the woman did commit a grave sin—namely, adultery. Justice doesn’t seem to be in the whole picture here. It is clear in the Law that transgressions as such deserves any form of punishment. This is how justice naturally works. A more puzzling thing about this passage is that Jesus did not condemn the woman either. He neither forgave nor condemn the woman. Therefore, it seems that what Jesus was actually showing is indifference towards the sin. This indifference is counter-intuitive as well because it is supposed to be the other way around: a just person is naturally more indifferent towards the sinner than the sin. So, how do we make sense of this indifference by our Savior Jesus Christ?

In making sense of the puzzle, I think it’s necessary to shed light on the whole context of the passage. In doing so, couple of points are necessary. The first point has to do with the smallest detail in the passage. St. John makes a very brief mention of where Christ was before heading to the Temple. He was in the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives is located east of the Temple, separated by the Kidran Valley. This detail may be just trivial at best for us, but from the Jewish perspective at that time, this detail is a big deal. From Jewish perspective, this detail renders the thoughts of the prophets such as Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. These prophets obsessed over the currents of the Jewish life, especially of the Temple. These three prophets, specifically, Ezekiel, proclaimed the departure of the glory of God from the Temple as a result of religious corruption. It has departed from the Temple and headed east towards the Mount of Olives. Therefore, that small detail at the beginning of the passage actually renders a tremendous image of God’s plan for Israel, specifically to that woman: through His incarnate Son, God yearned to journey back to the Temple and restore its original glory. The second point to consider is the corruption of the religious leaders at that time and its manifestations. The corruption that was pioneered at the top of the Temple disseminated down through the minds and practices of its leaders. And it is no less evident in the gospel passage. The Pharisees brought the woman before the Ultimate Judge of Heaven and Earth not to seek justice but to set up the Judge Himself, asking Him if they should stone her to death. According to them, Christ saying no to stoning her would mean that He is violating the laws of Moses, and saying yes to stoning her would mean that He is violating the laws Rome, forbidding the Jews to exercise capital punishment. At that time, the right to capital punishment is reserved only to Rome. If Christ says no to stoning, He would be accused as a heretic under the Law of Moses. If He says yes, He would be accused as a traitor under the imperial law of Rome. Quite an impeccable set up, isn’t it?

One of the most subtle things in dealing with human affairs is setting up people for our own sake, an action concealed under the veil of justice, equality, etc. This subtle thing that we do sometimes is a stark manifestation of our spiritual corruption, a chief effect of Original sin. This is the same kind of corruption that sent the glory of God out of the temple. But many years, prophecies later, God doesn’t give up as He journeyed His way back to the temple. The Glory of God has come back to the temple and, this time, no other human corruption can sent it away back once more. It has made its stamp on the ground of the temple through its fingertips, writing something that many bright minds down the centuries could only speculate. Like a wind that blows away anything it hits on the ground, Christ’s divine Wisdom has knocked out the set up the Pharisees have plotted against Him and blown away everyone surrounding Him with His words: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”. Instead of saying either yes or no, He is telling everyone “Look at yourselves in the mirror and be ashamed of what have you become, profaning my Law for your own sinful interests, persecuting instead of nourishing this poor soul!”

Now, let’s step back a little bit here. With His divine wisdom, Our Lord Christ knew who is and is not ready to be forgiven. The Judge of Heaven and Earth knew where to send His mercy to. Humiliated, the woman caught in adultery must have been filled with tears and sorrow. Prideful, the Pharisees are filled with contempt, eager to send the glory of the One they purport to serve out of the temple. Instead, the Pharisees walked away ashamed, with a doom awaiting them. There is a clear reason why she shouldn’t be forgiven, for her sin is as equal as that of the Pharisees. But with a humble and contrite heart, the Lord has found favor in her. The words “neither do I condemn you” can also be expressed as “I have seen you heart, woman, and with that repentant heart I forgive you, and urge you to sin no more lest you lose your way to where you ought to belong”. The Lord said, “Blessed are the persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:10). The Pharisees are corrupt leaders because of their refusal to show the kingdom of Heaven to those who are lost like the woman. Their hearts are hardened and, therefore, unwelcoming to the grace the Lord has prepared for everyone. Jesus came to the temple to do “something new”, as Isaiah prophesized in the first reading. And this new thing is transforming the temple into His own, where the temple is no longer a mere edifice, but His own body which He will give away on the cross to teach us selflessness—love of neighbor, a love so transformative that even the woman can never run away from.

That indifference which seems puzzling, therefore, is just a look in His eyes eager to transform those who ask for His mercy.

Wise enough because of his conversion, St. Paul knew that the Lord does not take our sinful past against us, but urges us to focus on what He has prepared ahead of us—namely, His transformative love. Divine wisdom tells us that there is more hope for us to look forward to than regrets in the past to hold us back. Our Lord is full of surprises and, therefore, we have reason to proclaim that we are filled with joy as we sing in the psalms. The Lord looks forward to transform us just as He transformed the woman caught in adultery. It is only up to us to welcome Him with joy.

Welcoming others the same way that He welcomes us in His loving arms is our call for this extraordinary year of Mercy. During these times when corruption of the soul is rampant, there is no other better way to transform the world than gazing upon the mercy of our Judge. Welcoming the transformative love of God is enough for us to be forgiven. When we fully say to His loving grace, we say no to Sin and the ways of Satan.

 

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