Jesus’ Words of Absolution

thumbnail6We have come to the beginning of John 8 as we are about to enter Holy Week and more Catholics are hearing precious and life-transforming words of absolution than at any other time of the year. The adulterous woman who had been thrown at the feet of Jesus heard, “…Has no one condemned you?….Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” (vs 10,11) The Ignatius commentary puts it succinctly and well: “Jesus neither condemns the woman nor condones her sins. He rather forgives her past and challenges her to live a life of purity in the future.” This is reminiscent of what He told the disabled man whom He had healed in John 5, no?

In verses 6 and 8 we have that puzzling picture of Jesus bending down, writing something on the ground with His finger. I have always suspected that what he wrote was, “Where’s the guy?”, referring to the Mosaic Law in Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22. And He very well may have done so. But, there are a variety of ideas about this: if His action was symbolic, perhaps it referred to Jer.17:13; or, it might be a gesture teaching us to bend low in humility before we condemn others; or, He might have been listing the sins of each Pharisee involved in this situation, beginning with the eldest! If the last possibility is correct, the usual assumption that the eldest Pharisees were wisest may not be correct; the eldest ones might have been the most sinful! St. Thomas Aquinas leans toward the elders being the wisest, referring us to Jeremiah 5:5.  St. Thomas also has this to say about Jesus writing on the earth:  “…because the Old Law was written on tablets of stone…(signifying) its harshness”  whereas, “the earth is soft.  And so Jesus wrote on the earth to show the sweetness and the softness of the New Law that He gave to us.”  Whatever the explanation, it is fascinating to conjecture about it, and thanks be to God we have a beautiful picture of how we should be experiencing the Sacrament of Reconciliation even today.

In John 8:12 we have the awesome words, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” This leads into a teaching about His own relationship with the Father, which ends with the same picture we came across in John 3 when Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus about being “lifted up” from the earth. St. John’s use of the actual time of night when Nicodemus had come to Him, versus the daylight, to speak about the importance of coming “to the light” of Christ, is emphasized here by Jesus in another actual situation of light and darkness: the location of Jesus standing in the treasury adjacent to the Court of Women is brilliant, so to speak, because this is the area where the lamp-lighting ceremony took place with golden candelabras illuminating the Temple courts.

I’ll have a few more things for you to think about in next Friday’s post, but being Good Friday, I suspect not many of you will read it until close to April 3, when we meet on the ferry again.  Have a beautiful Holy Week and Easter.  In Christ, Joyce