Today’s Gospel is about mercy and doubt. Normally, we think of doubt as the opposite of belief. We talk about “Doubting Thomas.” And it seems like there is no room for doubt at all: the woman is caught in the very act of adultery. The law is clear. The Pharisees have an unbreakable chain of evidence, “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Yet in each of our hearts, there is a little bit of doubt. Not about others, but about ourselves. Call it vanity, perhaps. But we know that we sin, and we rely on the forgiveness of others. Perhaps we’re never sure if they even know. And we wonder what others would think if they knew about our sins.

Stoning someone has a kind of arrogance to it, and this is the point of weakness Jesus leans on. It says “I am better than you.” Any Pharisee that flings a stone now is going to be embarrassed, because everyone probably has some idea of what he has done wrong, and they’re going to laugh at him. Perhaps some of the men gathered had also committed adultery, but people were afraid to stone them. The elders, being the wisest, figure this out first and leave. Oddly, a common experience of sin unites everyone; but it also makes it impossible for us to condemn each other. The violence ends with a standoff.

Who then can judge us? Someone without sin, naturally. Jesus. This is our experience when we come to church. We know our neighbor has sinned. We certainly know we have sinned. And we doubt: “should I be here? Should I receive communion? Would God really love me after what I did?” And so for us too Jesus straightens up, and looks at us with love. And although he easily and fairly could, he does not condemn us. Instead, he sets us free.

What a burden lifted! NOW we can say we are without sin, because of this experience of mercy and love. And, if you wanted to be technical, you could go back to judging. But how could we after that experience of mercy. After that challenge not to sin again. Instead, I think we follow the Lord’s own example. We try to extend that same mercy and forgiveness to those who owe us debts. We hope that others can share that same feeling for freedom and forgiveness that we find here.

Peace ~ Fr. Dan