God’s mercy and compassion

Sunday Homily of Fr Elmer Ibarra SVD (Australia)

5th Sunday Lent

Isaiah 43,16-21

Philippians 3,8-14

John 8,1-11

There was a priest who got assigned to a new parish. While listening confessions of the people, he noticed that a lot of them confessed that they “fell off the bridge”. But he did not know that the term “fell off the bridge” is a code among the parishioners meaning they committed adultery. However, the priest doesn’t know this so he went to the mayor of the town and said, “Mr. Mayor, I think there’s something wrong with the bridge, because people keep on falling off the bridge.” At this, the mayor started laughing because he knows the code. The priest felt insulted so he complained to the mayor. He said, “Mr. Mayor, you should take me seriously because even your wife fell of the bridge three times already!” Then the mayor’s face turned serious.

It is a good coincidence that in the news lately, we have heard that Brunei will implement a stricter interpretation of Sharia Law which will mean that those who are caught in adultery and same sex relations might be stoned to death. 


In the gospel for today, we see Jesus being asked to judge on a case where a woman was caught in the “act of committing adultery”. The Pharisees and scribes wanted to know if Jesus would consent to the stoning of the woman as her punishment based on Mosaic Law. However, what the Pharisees and the scribes are really up to is to trap Jesus so that they can charge him or at least discredit him in front of his followers. The Pharisees and the scribes thought that if Jesus would say that the woman shouldn’t be stoned then Jesus would be accused of disregarding Mosaic Law. If Jesus said that she should be stoned, the Pharisees and the scribes would say that Jesus is a hypocrite, teaching forgiveness, mercy and compassion but would not really practice it because he lets this woman die. And another thing, since the Romans have taken away the right for the Sanhedrin to execute people, if the Jews were caught imposing the death penalty among them, they will get into trouble with the Roman authorities. In fact some bible scholars believe that this is a trap because if the Pharisees and scribes follow Mosaic Law, where is the man? Because in Mosaic Law, both man and woman involved in such acts should both be executed. So why did they only have the woman but not the man. Perhaps, they have “planted” the man to make this act of adultery and then let the man go after they have caught the woman. 


After asking Jesus his verdict on whether the woman should be stoned or not, Jesus did something mysterious, he started writing on the ground with his finger. Many bible scholars wondered what Jesus might have written if ever he has written something on the ground. But the general consensus is that Jesus might just be doodling on the ground. It is a sign to tell everyone that he is not interested or he may just be buying his time on what to answer. However, after being pressed for an answer, Jesus stood up and said, “He who has no sin, cast the first stone.” Then he bent down again and started doodling again. Then all the people left one by one staring with the elders. Then when everybody left, Jesus stood up and asked the woman, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” And Jesus concludes, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” 


This story of mercy and compassion of Jesus is the essence of the Lenten Season. Jesus knew that what is laid on him is not a sincere question about Mosaic Law but instead a malicious trap in order to get him into trouble. Sadly, the adulterous woman was used as a pawn in this chess game between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes. However, Jesus also took advantage of this opportunity on how mercy should be practiced. That while mercy and forgiveness was given to the woman, she is also asked by Jesus not to sin anymore. The woman is being called to convert from her evil ways and follow the Lord instead. 


This is the call of Jesus to all of us. We are being called to accept Jesus’ mercy and compassion and also to heed his call to not to sin anymore. And while we accept that not sinning anymore is almost impossible to achieve, yet with Jesus’ help we can get closer and closer to perfection and to not sin at all. 


As we are about to wind down with the Lenten season and enter into Holy Week very soon, let us continue to be thankful for the mercy and compassion that our Lord has shown to all of us and may we also exercise the same to our brothers and sisters as well.  

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