Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved. http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
Shame is the feeling we experience when we’ve been “caught.” It is the feeling of being exposed, especially in a moment of weakness or sinfulness. Today’s lectionary gives us two shame-filled readings: the old men hiding in the garden lusting after Susanna (Daniel 13:1-62) and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11).
A healthy sense of shame is not a bad thing! Shame helps us set boundaries, alerts us to risky behavior, and leads to genuine sorrow. Which is why, in the first week of the Spiritual Exercises, we ask for the grace to feel shame and confusion when confronting the reality of sin. The difficulty with shame is that it hits at the very core of our identity. At its worst, shame can lead us to believe that we are no longer lovable and not worthy of forgiveness.
When the Pharisees bring the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, he does not ask for an explanation. Jesus does not interrogate or humiliate her any further. Jesus responds with compassion, because her identity is not tied to her sin. When Jesus looks at her, he sees a beloved daughter of God. Jesus doesn’t deny that she has sinned, but he sees beyond her sinfulness. As he recognizes her dignity and self-worth, he simply extends mercy, “Neither do I condemn you.”
Jesus, how do you see me? Give me the grace to know myself as your beloved daughter, as your beloved son, as your beloved friend – even when I sin.
—Beth Knobbe is an author and ministry professional based in Chicago, IL. She blogs at www.bethknobbe.com .
Lord, you extend your hand to me, and I take it. You see through my exterior. You know my failures, my nagging weaknesses. Yet, there will be no hesitation. You speak the same words to me that redeemed the woman: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
Lord, how much you really do love me! I have but one request. May I be your companion each and every day of my life?
—The Jesuit Prayer Team