Sin no more

This coming Sunday is the 5th Sunday in Lent, Year C. In yesterday’s post all the accusers and the crowd of people had left the scene. This prepares for the fourth and final stage of this story–Jesus’ response to the woman (vv. 10-11). He straightens up and asks for a report of what happened, as if he had been totally oblivious to what took place as he concentrated on his writing. He does not ask her about the charges but rather about that aspect of the situation most heartening to the woman: Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? (v. 10).

But there is one left who could still execute the judgment; the required eyewitness had left the scene. Is she hopeful at this point or still quite frightened? We can only speculate as to whether the woman was familiar with Jesus and his embodiment of the mercy of God. In any case, she becomes a memorable example of the fact that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (3:17). Jesus says to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (8:11).

There are two schools of thought about Jesus’ final words to the woman.  One line of thought holds that not condemning is different than forgiveness. The woman had as yet given no sign of repentance or of faith. What Jesus does is to show mercy and to call her to righteousness. He condemned the sin and not the sinner. But more than that, he called her to a new life in which not only is forgiveness of sins available, but a new quality of life that overcomes the power of sin (cf. 8:32-36; 1 Jn 3:4-6).

The other school of thought is that Jesus has forgiven this instance of her sin, but it is a mercy of this moment and now she needs to leave her life of sin, to amend the whole of her life.

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