Sin Means Death — 5th Sunday in Lent—Year C

The scribes and the Pharisees were jealous of Jesus. When He came to the temple all the people gathered round Him to listen to Him teach. His words were compelling; the truths of God taught with gentle mercy. All the people were flocking to Jesus and this made the scribes and the Pharisees deeply jealous. We ourselves must beware of jealousy, for it can lead us to hate the good and condemn the innocent.

The scribes and the Pharisees bring before Jesus an adulterous woman and say to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

This scene raises some questions. For instance, how did Jesus’ enemies know where to find an adulteress when they needed one? It’s unlikely this affair was discovered just that morning. It must have been known from days, weeks, months, or even years before.

This prompts another question: if this affair had occurred much earlier, then why had the Jews not executed judgment on this woman before now. There seems to be two reasons for this. First of all, under Roman rule, the Jews had no authority to impose the death penalty on anyone. We will see this come into play in the Passion, where the Jewish leaders must convince Pilate that Jesus is an enemy of the state if they are going to do away with this “blasphemer.”

But there is another reason, too. Even though the Law of Moses had commanded death for certain sins, based upon what I’ve read the actual use of capital punishment for sins was very, very rare among the people of Israel, even before the Romans came along. And, as we can see in this scene, not even the scribes and the Pharisees are really serious about applying the law in strict and absolute terms. If they had been, they would have brought along the adulterous man for judgment too. Where is he? He was just as guilty as her, if not more (considering their culture.)

So the penalty of death was very rarely employed for punishing sinners, but then why were these severe punishments in the Old Covenant at all?  It seems that the point of those rarely applied laws was to teach an important lesson, a lesson repeated over and over again in countless ways throughout the Old Testament, a lesson for the Jews and a lesson for us today:

Sin is serious stuff, because sin leads to death.
Sin brings us death in our bodies and our souls.
Sin means death.

The scribes and the Pharisees round up a known adulteress and set their trap against Jesus (which is the only thing this is really about for them.) Jesus’ enemies will try pitting justice against Jesus’ mercy. They’re thinking to themselves, “Surely he’s not going to tell us to stone her, that’s not his way. He says he ‘has come not to destroy, but to seek and to save what is lost.’ So when he tells us not to stone her, then we’ve got him. He’ll be telling us to disobey the Law of Moses, and then we’ll have a charge to bring against him.”

“So Jesus… what do you say?” Jesus says nothing. He stoops down and writes with His finger on the ground the only thing we have record of Him writing in the entire Gospels. What did Jesus write? We don’t know. The Greek verb used indicates that Jesus was writing letters or words, and not drawing disinterested doodles or drawing a line between the accused and her accusers.

A common explanation is that Jesus’ finger was writing on the ground the names of sins, sins which those in the crowd had committed, sins which the finger of God had written of long before, on the stones of the commandments atop Mount Sinai. Perhaps Jesus wrote the words: “Sacrilege, Rebellion, Adultery, Theft, Deception, Coveting.”

The accusers continue harassing Jesus, but He rises again, and gives his well-known reply. The crowd of evil doers slowly scatters, and Jesus is left there alone with the woman. The threatening mob is gone, and you think that the woman would flee, but the woman does not run away. She knows she has sinned. She knows that she cannot run away from her sins or from God. She stays there before Jesus.

Jesus rises again and says to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She replies, “No one, sir.”
Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Jesus condemns the sin, but not the sinner. Jesus is merciful, but He is not indifferent to the prospect of her continuing in sin, nor is he indifferent to us continuing in our old sins. He does not say, “Go, and live as you will: presume on my deliverance: for however great your sins may be, it doesn’t really matter one way or the other.”

Jesus does not say this, for sin means death, and Jesus died to free us from sin and death. So let us come before Jesus to receive His pardon, but then let us go forth seriously and, from now on, sin no more.

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3 Responses to “Sin Means Death — 5th Sunday in Lent—Year C”

  1. Katie Reigel Says:

    How do you put pictures next to your name?

  2. Father Victor Feltes Says:

    You must set up an account.

  3. Katie Reigel Says:

    How do you set up an account? Forgive me I am not very intelligent!!!

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