Who is the most honorable person you know? Why is this person so honorable?
What makes a person honorable? Great deeds and great commitments? Wisdom and humility? Trustworthiness and compassion? A great reputation? There are these and many other ways to define an honorable person. Striving for the right. The right way to act. The right way to live. This person is the opposite of the sinner.
What turns a sinner into an individual of honor? Presented with a sinner, Jesus turned the question of condemnation back on the honorable leaders of his community. And he gave the possibility of change to the sinner with a simple twist in his point of view.
In our Gospel today, the Pharisees challenged Jesus with a moral dilemma. The Jewish leaders pitted the fulfillment of God’s Law (tradition) against compassion (present need). If Jesus chose fulfillment of the Law, he would be seen as cold-hearted in the eyes of those he ministered to: the sinners. But, if he chose compassion, he would be seen as one who disrespected the Law and was “soft on” immorality; the general populace would renounce him and the leaders would have sufficient grounds to prosecute him. This was a tight “open and shut” case for the Pharisees and a losing situation for Jesus.
But Jesus chose an unexpected middle route; he acted apathetic by doodling on the ground and turned the question back on them. By giving the sinless permission to carry out the Law, Jesus caught the Pharisees at their own game. To throw a stone at this point would be the sin of pride. The persecutors would have the audacity to act in God’s place; this would be blasphemous in the eyes of the people, since no one was without sin. No wonder the elders left first in shame.
Possibly the greatest irony of the story could be found in the adulterous woman. The woman, caught in the act, stood before Jesus un-judged; that would be the way Jesus would leave the woman. Without judgment, the charge of sin could not be leveled against her, she was truly “sinless” in the eyes of the Lord. Jesus simply told her not to sin again.
Our encounter with Jesus brings hope. In the invitation to repent, Jesus offers us new life. Jesus offers us new choices and opportunities to change. The work of Lent is to hear Jesus and respond by making choices that will lead us to new life.