Isaiah 43, 16-21 + Psalm 126 + Philippians 3, 8-14 + John 8, 1-11
March 13, 2016 at St Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL
It is a story of mercy well worth hearing again during this Holy Year of Mercy. The woman caught and condemned is not the only one who receives mercy even though she seems to be at the center of the story. The Scribes and Pharisees receive mercy as well. They learn a lesson and also get a second chance although we don’t know how much good it does. As sinners we may find comfort by identifying with the woman in the story, but we might learn more by shifting our attention to the Scribes and Pharisees. While there may be a few big sinners and adulterers among us, if the truth is told we are more like the Scribes and Pharisees than the woman. We judge, we embarrass, we accuse, we reveal secrets, and we often choose the moral high ground when it comes to the faults and sins of others.
The woman, whose sin is acknowledge goes away free and forgiven. She gets to experience mercy, but those others whose sin is never named nor really acknowledged just slip away trapped in their righteousness and convinced that they are doing the right thing. Of course, the “right thing” for them has nothing to do with this woman they are using. The right thing for them is trapping Jesus, catching him in violation of the law. They seem to be deaf to the very word and commands of God they want to enforce. “It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice” says God in the sixth chapter of the Old Testament Book of Hosea, but they only listen to themselves jealous of the Rabbi who draws bigger and more admiring crowds than they do. So they are willing to sacrifice this woman to their ideals forgetting all about mercy which they think she does not deserve. What lies behind all this is the fact that justice without mercy is never really just. It is only revenge.
Earlier this week while studying this text, I came across this little story that left me thinking for hours. One day a mother came to plead with Napoleon for her son’s life. The young man had committed a serious offence. The law was clear. Justice demanded his death. The emperor was determined to ensure that justice would be done. But the mother insisted, “Your Excellency, I have come to ask for mercy not for justice.” But he does not deserve mercy.” Napoleon answered. “Your Excellency, said the mother, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it.” “So be it,” said Napoleon. “I will have mercy on him.” And he set her son free.
My friends, Mercy, of its nature, is pure gift. It is something we all stand in need of and none of us deserve. It is a gift we have already received, and a gift the worthy will pass on to others remembering the words of Jesus spoken to us all: “Blessed are the merciful; they will obtain mercy.”