Jesus immediately understood what was happening. From his Rabbi’s seat in that Holy Temple, he neither condemns nor says anything that breaks the law. He buys time. He gives them time to think, to reflect, to calm down. He invites them to think of their own lives, their own weaknesses, their own sinfulness. Once more, Jesus reminds us that we are all in the same boat – no one has a right to judge another. Above all, moving his finger on the temple’s slab, Jesus reminds his audience of an important event in the scriptures which they knew too well: God had written the Law with His own finger on a slab. And it seems that, for these people, God’s law is still there, carved in stone rather than in their heart. And if it was in their heart, it seems that their hearts are still made of stone. Through the prophets God had promised His people that, eventually, He would have changed those hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, pouring into them a new spirit.
St Paul was a person who understood this transformation too well. Often, he reflects on his life, and compares the past with the present, the “old man” with the “new man”, the “old creation” with the “new creation”: Because Paul, too, had been a person under the law, with a heart of stone, becoming a murderer for the sake of this law. But his encounter with Jesus changed everything. Now he knows: nothing compares with the “supreme advantage” of experiencing Christ in his life. All else fades into nothing.
It seems that the people in the Gospel, somehow, got the message. One by one they started retreating, starting with the eldest. Maybe the eldest had the longest career of sinfulness! The heart starts changing. This is, indeed, conversion.
And, once more, they left her there – this time alone with Jesus. In their hands she had no dignity. She was just the sinner, the adulteress. Jesus treats her differently. Lovingly, he enters into dialogue with her. He shows her that, for him, she has the dignity of a human being. Moreover, he addresses her “woman” – the same address he used with his own mother some time earlier at the wedding in Cana, and which he will eventually use with his good friend Mary of Magdala after his resurrection.
Jesus does not condone the sin. He acknowledges the fact that she did sin. Still he does not delve in it. He asks no questions, no justification of the wrong committed. What’s done is done, but now he invites her to go and sin no more. Having had an experience of Jesus’s love and unconditional forgiveness, she can now start a new life. An experience which could have meant death for her, has been turned into an opportunity for a new beginning, a new life.
In the life of that woman there is the life of each and every one of us. We are aware of our sinfulness. Sometimes we feel guilt crushing us, its finger pointed to us like that of each of those who were accusing the woman in the Gospel. And yet, Jesus tells us that all is not lost. With him, there is always hope.
This is precisely what we shall be celebrating in two weeks’ time. Without denying the reality of death, the Resurrection tells us that new life is always possible.