We often heard the story of the Lord Jesus Christ and the adulterous woman being read or talked within the season of Lent. (John 8:1-11) Yet, how many of us actually have taken the time to reflect and pray on the beauty of the story itself? I think many of us had missed the point in trying to understand Jesus‘ true intention and the immense power of forgiveness, manifested through his interaction with the crowd, its movers and shakers, as well as the woman who was caught and condemned to die. Therefore, I would like to take the moment to share my own reflection of the story and its powerful message of true compassion and forgiveness.
First, we have to recognize that our world has become more hypocritical and pharisaical. It loves to justify itself and condemn others who do not share its particular views! It is hypocritical (according to the word’s true meaning) because it chooses to wear a mask of self-righteousness for the sake of revolutionary progress simply to hide the broken reality behind it. It likes to put blame on others, especially those who lived in the past or are different than itself and its agendas; yet at the same time, excuse itself from its own wrongs for the sake of progress.
Even though our society talks much about progress, revolution, liberation, and freedom, it enslaves us in its own arrogance and self-righteous way by bashing others to justify and become something or someone attractive, appealing, or accepted by the mass. It is so easy for us to be sucked in the usual mode of operations! It has always been easy for us as human beings to point out the failures of others, make us feel good about ourselves as if we are more superior than the people of history or those who are around us, pointing fingers but excusing ourselves for everything. Many times, we have become like the Pharisees of old, using the law, changing its interpretations, or creating new ones in the process to fit our lifestyles. Life, people, and relationships have been cheapened and misused because of this mentality.
Working with a lot of college students and young adults, I have come to know that there is an app for (almost) everything. There are so many apps for the dating and love departments as well! Some are fine, but I have seen apps like Tinder (and others similar to it) destroy so many relationships. In a prevalent hookup culture that cheapened relationships, objectified people on looks and desirability, and leave many hurts because how they are being judged and looked at themselves according to how attractive, appealing, or worthy they are in the casual exchange department. It is sad to say that our world no longer looks at adultery as wrong, but simply as a “required” part of a relationship, as a “deposit” to make sure that one is “committed” or able to “give” into the exchange. Unlike the woman in the Gospel reading who was not proud of the life she was living, perhaps stuck or was not given the proper chance to seek another alternative, because she was marked, known, or carried the social stigma, our world often thinks that casual sexual exchanges are perfectly fine and expected as a hedonistic gauge for intimacy and satisfaction. Many do not want to talk about the destructive and detrimental effects of sexualization and objectification of people for the sake of freedom and choices. Yet, this ignored “elephant in the room” is destroying many people’s lives and relationships. As a priest, I have seen so many relationships that got challenged or came to an end when the performance in the bedroom gets poor or become a minuscule.
We have become more impoverished and yet more proud of ourselves because of our hypocritical outlooks and pharisaical lifestyle! We lack the humility and honesty to know and accept our need to repent, change our lives, and especially seeking redemption and salvation. We have, unfortunately, turned to our habit of excusing everything without seeking conversion of heart! I had been on both sides of the extremes. I was, in the past, loved to eagerly throw stones or stood in the crowd to condemn those whom I envied or disliked. I was also, at times in the past, was shamed and sinned against God and my fellow beings. Honestly speaking, it was so easy to live with the either/or lifestyles with the two extremes. Nevertheless, Jesus took a different route! He took the third option, one that was outside of our natural and humanistic understanding.
The Lord loves us, just like the adulterous woman, in our brokenness but He does not just want us to continue living as if nothing is wrong. He wants us to truly work on ourselves and overcome our sins! He had compassion on the woman, forgave, and told her to go and sin no more. Why? He was compassionate toward her because He was merciful toward her brokenness, especially her distraught in being condemned by others, perhaps even those who frequented the dark alley or looked the other way for the people they know. He called out the Pharisees and elders because they were too busy condemning her without looking at their own faults and needs for conversion. He looked beyond the mob and its movers and shakers to call out the individuals in it! That was why he told whoever was without sin to throw the first stone.
He patiently wrote on the ground something that made them think. Slowly, each one retreated! This story presents a real and personal need for conversion, especially the reminder to calm down, look at ourselves, be humble, open up our hearts, recognize our sins, and return back to the Almighty, especially with the heartfelt commitment to sin no more. The Lord Jesus Christ freed the adulterous woman from the mob of self-righteousness and her enslaved and cheapened life of casual exchanges! He freed her from the objectification of others as to live a new life as a child of God. She was liberated by the Savior to become someone that society never allowed or afforded her to be in the past because He took the time, reached out, lifted her up, and gave her the power to rise above what held her back.
This is the true message of the Gospel and the Lord‘s invitation to forgive and seek forgiveness, to live out the message of love by how we love those who fell. Compassion invites us to touch the other person and learn to forgive and help him or her up just as He had forgiven us. Many of us have spent so much time to become whoever we would like to be or wasted so much time to throw rocks at others that we do not like! We have spent many efforts to become someone who we are not as to be loved or prove ourselves to others. Yet, none of that is true or satisfactory, because we have ended up enslaving ourselves with the exact things that this world wants of us and from us! True freedom is only found in receiving God‘s mercy, living in His grace, and our personal commitment of trying our best to sin no more. Without a doubt, and I do not even know if there are any sufficient words to describe it, the greatest joy in life is knowing who we are and who we belong in the love of Him who formed us out of love and for love.
If we fail, which we will, let us try our best not to justify our faults by blaming or trying to stone others. Look at the Savior, confess our sins, and be reconciled with Him! The greatest gift, worth more than gold or any treasure in this world, is knowing who we are — so loved by Him — and to live in that loving grace. I pray that we will experience the immense power of love through Christ and become true ambassadors of forgiveness and reconciliation. May we experience that wonderful and joy-filled knowledge of being forgiven by Jesus as to leave everything behind and to live a life worthy of this message of reconciliation in our interaction with others around us. I leave you with the words of Saint Paul as we embrace the love of God as our supreme good and ultimate motivation to love: “I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.”(Philippians 3:8-9)