The poignancy of the story of the woman brought before Jesus and condemned for committing adultery lies not only in the fact that he would not condemn her but forgave her sin, but that in mercy he also allowed those who had possibly perjured themselves and therefore faced a similar fate to the woman, to have that moment of grace.
This moment, where they recognized their own sinfulness, compounded by their intolerance and hypocrisy, is as much a part of the story as the central figure of Jesus and the woman. One tradition suggests Jesus wrote down the names of other women who were involved with the men, thus showing them their mendacity, but whatever he wrote, Jesus showed mercy, something Pope Francis reminded the priests hearing confessions when he made his impromptu visit to St Mary Major , he used the gospel words: 'be merciful’.
All of us need to listen to the gospel of this Sunday because in our own ways we can be like the woman, openly seen for what we are, or something we don’t like thinking about, people who hide our misdemeanors and sometimes act in a slightly hypocritical manner. We are all guilty of that, but the Lord calls out to each one of us to be forgiven. We need to hear more of this call for merciful forgiveness in the Church, for as Paul says: 'All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection’. This is not only for a personal gain but so that we might fulfill our task as disciples of the Lord, taking up our cross each day and journeying as a pilgrim with others.
As if to really set us on our way again, the Prophet Isaiah tells us not to look back, not to revisit the past too often, but look ahead, look to this moment when the new deed of the Lord is taking place. For the woman as for the scribes and Pharisees that moment of kairos, God entering their lives in a very real way took place at the point of an almost degrading encounter with little of the love of God and neighbour in it. At that moment Jesus turned things round and pointed the way, 'go your sins are forgiven, I have not condemned you'.
In this week when Pope Francis begins his ministry of what he succinctly called 'presiding in charity’ . the Lord has given us one of these special moments when through the Holy Spirit the Church made up of living stones and walking as a pilgrim people proclaims the truth of Christ to the hungry world.
Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern Rite Chaplain for the Melkite Greek Catholics in Britain.