22 March 2010

Intransigent with sin ... indulgent with people

We have arrived at the 5th Sunday of Lent in which this year the liturgy proposes to us the Gospel episode of Jesus saving the adulterous woman condemned to death (John 8:1-11). While he is teaching in the Temple area the scribes and the Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery, for whom the Mosaic Law prescribes stoning.

These men ask Jesus to judge the woman with the purpose of "putting him to the test" and trip him up. The scene is full of drama: The woman's life and Jesus' own life depend on his words. The hypocritical accusers, in fact, pretend to entrust him with the judgment while in reality they want to accuse and judge him. But Jesus is "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14): He knows what is in every man's heart, he wants to condemn sin but save the sinner, and unmask hypocrisy.

There is a detail that is highlighted by the evangelist St. John: While the accusers question him insistently, Jesus bends down and starts writing with his finger on the ground. St. Augustine observes that this gesture displays Jesus as the divine lawgiver: Indeed, God wrote the law with his finger on the tables of stone (cf. Commentary on the Gospel of John 33:5). Thus, Jesus is the lawgiver, justice incarnate. And what is his judgment? "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her."

These words are full of the disarming power of the truth, which makes the wall of hypocrisy crumble and opens consciences to a greater justice, that of love, in which consists the perfect fulfillment of every precept (cf. Romans 13:8-10). It is justice that also saved Saul of Tarsus, transforming him into St. Paul (cf. Philippians 3:8-14). When the accusers "departed, one by one, beginning with the elders," Jesus, absolving the woman of her sin, introduces her into a new life, oriented toward the good: "Neither do I condemn you; go and from now on do not sin any more." It is the same grace that will make the Apostle say: "I only know this: forgetting what is behind and looking to that which is ahead, I race toward the goal, to the prize that God is calling me to receive above in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14).

God only wants goodness and life for us; he provides for the salvation of our soul through his ministers, freeing us from evil by the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so that no one is lost but all have a way to be converted. In this Year for Priests, I would like to exhort pastors to imitate the holy Curé d'Ars in the ministry of sacramental Penance, so that the faithful rediscover its meaning and beauty, and are again healed by the merciful love of God, who even "forces himself willingly to forget sin," so that he can grant us his forgiveness!" ("Letter Proclaiming a Year for Priests").

Dear friends, let us learn from the Lord Jesus not to judge and not to condemn our neighbor. Let us learn to be intransigent with sin -- beginning with our own! -- and indulgent with people. May we be helped in this by the Holy Mother of God, who, free of every fault, is the mediatrix of grace for every contrite sinner.

Benedict XVI

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