In his Mass said Monday, Pope Francis reflected on the biblical scene in which Jesus prevents the stoning of an adulterous woman, observing how the Lord’s forgiveness extends even beyond what is considered just.
“Jesus goes beyond the law. He does not say: ‘adultery is not a sin!’ But he does not condemn it according to law,” the Pope explained in his April 7 homily during Mass said at the St. Martha guesthouse chapel.
This “is the mystery of mercy. It is the mystery of the mercy of Jesus.”
Highlighting how the story is well-known, the Pope recalled that in the passage the scribes and Pharisees bring to him a woman who had been caught in an adulterous relationship, pointing out how in the law, Moses condemns such a woman to be stoned to death because of the seriousness of the sin.
Turning to the sacrament of marriage, the Roman Pontiff explained that it is a human reality, but that it is also an image of the relationship between God and his people – so when a marriage is damaged by adultery, one's relationship with the Lord is damaged also.
Pope Francis then went on to say that when the Pharisees ask Jesus, “what do you say,” they did it to test him so that they could find a reason to condemn him.
“If Jesus had said: ‘Yes, go ahead and have her stoned,’ they would have told the people ‘this is your good and merciful master… just look at what he has done to this poor woman!’ And if Jesus had said: ‘Poor woman! Forgive her!’ they would have said: ‘He does not observe the Law!”
Emphasizing how “they did not care about adultery” and that “perhaps among them there were some adulterers,” the Pope noted that “all they cared about was catching Jesus in a trap.”
When Jesus responds to them by saying “let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her,” the scribes walk away, beginning with the elders, the Pope stated, which shows that their own records weren’t that clean either.
“So Jesus was left alone with the woman before him and said to her: ‘woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’”
“It is just you and I, alone before God, without accusations, without gossip. You and God! No one has condemned you.”
When the woman replies to Jesus saying “No one, sir,” she does not “say it was a false accusation! She does not say ‘I have not committed adultery,’” the Pope explained, emphasizing: “she recognizes her sin.”
“Then Jesus said: ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, from now on do not sin anymore,’ do not offend God again; do not spoil the beautiful relationship between God and his people.”
Recognizing that Jesus forgives, Pope Francis revealed that “there is something that goes beyond forgiveness,” and that “Jesus goes beyond the law” in forgiving a punishment that would have been considered just.
In this passage, we are able to see the merciful attitude of Jesus clearly, the Roman Pontiff continued, drawing attention to how “he defends the sinner from her enemies; he defends her against a just condemnation.”
“How many of us should perhaps go to hell? And the condemnation would be just … but he forgives and goes beyond. How? With this mercy!”
Mercy “goes beyond in such a way that sin is put to the side. It is like heaven.”
“We look at the sky, there are many, many stars; but when the sun rises in the morning, the light is such that we can’t see the stars,” the Bishop of Rome reflected, highlighting that “God’s mercy is like that: a great light of love and tenderness.”
Observing how “God forgives us, not with a decree, but with his love, healing the wounds of sin,” the Roman Pontiff expressed that this is because the Lord “is involved in forgiveness, he is involved in our salvation.”
“So when Jesus acts as confessor to the woman he does not humiliate her, he does not say: ‘What have you done? When did you do it? How did you do it? With whom did you do it?’ No! He says: ‘Go and do not sin again!’”
“God’s mercy is great, Jesus’s mercy is great. Forgive us and heal us!”