After the chief priests and Pharisees’ plot to arrest Christ at the Temple fails because the officers sent to arrest Christ were awed by Him, the next morning they attempt to trap Christ with an apparently no-lose plot: they will bring an adulteress (but not the male adulterer) to Christ and ask if He will pronounce judgment that she should be stoned to death as required by Mosaic Law. If Christ agrees, the Jewish leadership can report Christ to the Romans (Jews were forbidden to execute a person); if Christ does not agree, the Jewish leadership can denounce Him as being a false prophet who denies Mosaic Law (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22).

A stoning mob of Pharisees and scribes forcibly drag the woman caught in adultery before Christ, publicly shaming her, and ask if He agrees the woman should be stoned; they do not hold her male adulterer to the same standard. Bending down, Christ wrote in the dust, perhaps an allusion to Jeremiah’s condemnation (Jer 17:13) of shameful sinners who abandon the “fountain of Living Water” (the day before Christ had revealed that He was the source of “living water”); it is also a reminder that the sinners will die and return to dust.  As His condemnation sinks in, Christ stands and says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her”, and then bent down again and continued writing in the dust. The conspirators, beginning with the oldest who are the first to realize the plot has failed, slink away; perhaps some had a change of heart.

Christ is left alone with the adulteress after heroically rescuing her from stoning. Continuing to stoop, perhaps maintaining the sitting position of a rabbi or to present a less intimidating posture to ease the poor woman’s stress, Christ looks up and asks, “Woman, where are they? Has not one condemned you?” In perfect contrition, the sinful woman responds with humble faith, “No one, Lord.” In a prefigurement of the Sacrament of Confession and bypassing sacrificial sin offerings of the Temple, Christ knows the woman has sinned and grants her forgiveness, stressing that she must not enter into adultery again and live a life of purity.

1) Be awed by Christ’s divine genius in today’s Gospel. Perfectly forcing the Pharisees into their own trap, Christ humiliates the Jewish leadership and saves the woman: if they stone the woman, they will be guilty of breaking Roman law; if they do not stone the woman they fail to uphold the Law of Moses and are admitting they are sinners. Brilliant.

2) Christ, the model of heroic masculinity, defends and upholds the dignity of women; as intended by the Father, St. Joseph guided Christ to grow in stature (Luke 2:52). During Lent, draw closer to St. Joseph (CCC 437, 532) and pray for St. Joseph’s intercession that you might become a spiritual father to many.

3) Despite a culture that celebrates or excuses sexual sin, Christ commands men to “do not sin again.” During Lent, renew your understanding of Chastity (CCC 2337-2359) and pray for Christ to help you resist sexual temptation and to confess your sins promptly when you fall.