Jesus’ words of forgiveness empower us – as they did the woman caught committing adultery – to stand erect, and to accept the challenge not to sin again. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects
1 Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and, as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.
3 The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody, 4 they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, 5 and Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?’ 6 They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. 7 As they persisted with their question, he looked up and said, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8 Then he bent down and wrote on the ground again. 9 When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there. 10 He stood up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11 ‘No one, sir,’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus, ‘go away, and do not sin any more.’
Other readings: Isaiah 43:16-21 Psalm 125 (126) Philippians 3:8-14
Having had gospel readings from Luke for many Sundays now, we might be surprised that this Sunday gospel is from the Gospel of John. All is not as it seems. This gospel story, although found in John, is very similar to stories in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is absent from some ancient copies of John, and has long been considered an insertion into John’s gospel. It is, nevertheless, reliable gospel tradition, but comes from an unknown source. The early Christians deliberately put down in writing all the traditions about Jesus they had received.
The theme of forgiveness is prominent, as on previous Sundays. Jesus is being tested, as so often by the religious leaders of his day. The matter of fidelity to the Law of Moses is raised in a dramatic way. The actions of Jesus are eloquent. He crouches down to write on the ground, turning away from judgement and condemnation. He then ‘stands up’ to deliver words of forgiveness, words which restore her life to the woman and allow her to rise up. Words of forgiveness empower us to stand erect, and to accept the challenge not to sin again.
Am I prepared to understand and pardon the sinner?
Do I value the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a way of receiving for myself the new future offered to the woman in the gospel passage?
We pray for readiness to seek the forgiveness of Christ.
We pray for all those trapped in lifestyles of abuse.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy