Most of you will remember Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg who served as Auxiliary Bishop for the Seattle Archdiocese before making his way to the Reno Archdiocese in 2021.  I happened upon Bishop Mueggenborg’s book, Come Follow Me, a year or so ago and it has been a great blessing to me.  In light of the Lenten Penance service we will host this evening, I would like to share a reflection on the Gospel of John 8: 1 – 11 taken straight from Bishop Mueggenborg’s book.  This reflection speaks so well to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and offers us a great opportunity to reflect upon it. 

“This is the passage in which Jesus meets the woman caught in adultery who is about to be stoned to death by the scribes and Pharisees.  There are several interesting dynamics that occur in this passage and offer points for our reflection.

The first point to note is the attitude of the Pharisees and scribes who are trying to entrap Jesus.  They have cleverly devised a plan to put Jesus in an awkward position by which they think He will end up either condemning the woman to death or contradicting the Mosaic Law.  In order to carry out this plan of entrapment, they set up a situation in which they report that a woman has been caught in the very “act” of adultery.  Thus, she was entrapped as well – but note that there is no mention of the man.  Thus, a double standard is revealed in their plan.  Throughout the conversation with Jesus, the Pharisees and scribes treat the woman as an object and instrument of their ultimate goal, which is to discredit the Lord.  She is not a person to them but only an unfortunate bystander in their plot to seek Jesus’ demise.  In the face of such callous malice, Jesus first responds by ignoring their challenges by writing on the ground.  When they press the issue with Him a second time, our Lord responds by discrediting them when He says: “Let he who has no sin cast the first stone.”  Suddenly they walk away as they realize the injustice of trying to apply a standard to others that they are not willing to apply to themselves.  With their hypocrisy exposed, they no longer condemn the woman nor ask Jesus to do so.  In this interaction, Jesus is challenging all of us to examine the injustice we practice in relationships as well.

The second point is the development of the relationship between Jesus and the woman.  She is just an instrument for the scribes and Pharisees.  They are using her – probably by entrapment – to set the stage for their testing of Jesus.  She is nothing but an object to them.  However, in the course of the scene Jesus engages the woman in a personal conversation.  He addresses her as “you” – a word that is used only for familiar people and never for strangers.  Thus, Jesus is establishing relationship with the woman by his conversation.  He is also breaking many social barriers by talking with a woman in public, which was something that was forbidden in the cultural world of Jesus.  In all of this, Jesus is caring for her as a person and showing great respect for her – even in her sinfulness.  She, in turn, accepts the relationship and calls Him “Lord” – a sign that she is acknowledging that she stands before mercy incarnate.  It is only when the relationship is established that Jesus releases her and challengers her to sin no more.  This is an important dynamic because Jesus first invites us into relationship with Him and then challenges us into discipleship.  Sometimes we think that we have to get our act together before we can approach the Lord.  The reality is that we can only have our act together because we have met the Lord!

The third interesting dynamic is in the contrast between the woman and the scribes and Pharisees.  She is someone who was “bound” to her sin in a very public way.  She came to know all too painfully the consequences of her actions and she had no choice but to face them.  What a humiliating moment.  But when the crowd left, she chose to stay.  She stood before Jesus a sinner acknowledging her sin.  In that moment, Jesus set her free and changed her life.  That moment of forgives and freedom was only possible because she chose to stand before Jesus acknowledging her sin.  That’s what it means to “bind” and “loose” people from their sins.  We can’t be forgiven for something that we don’t acknowledge as being our sin.  In a real sense, the first step in forgiveness is to be “bound”.  The second step in forgiveness is to stand before Jesus asking to be set free.  With that humility and trust in the mercy of God, the Lord challenges us to change our lives and go forth.  However, the scribes and Pharisees had a very different experience.  They, too, were bound to their sin as they examined their consciences and realized their own need for forgiveness.  However, they walked away when they realized their sinfulness and chose to go home still bound to their sin rather than to approach Jesus seeking forgiveness and mercy.  As a result, nothing changed in their lives.  This passage speaks about the dynamic of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in which we freely acknowledge our sin and come to the Lord seeking a new beginning.  In this sacrament of healing the Church reminds us that “Penance requires….the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction.  (CCC 1450) Penance is a loving confrontation in which the mercy of God awaits us as well.

Lastly, Jesus gives the woman not only a second chance at physical life (“Has no one condemned you?”) but He also gives her an invitation to eternal life by remaining free of sin and in relationship with Him (“Sin no more”).  This final point is a significant aspect of this passage and worthy of more reflection because it speaks directly to us as disciples.  In short, Jesus helps the woman move beyond a discipleship that is based on observing rules due to fear of punishment to a discipleship that is based on a loving relationship with God.  It would have been an act of mercy had Jesus only let the woman go.  That action would have meant giving her back her life.  Her motivation for avoiding sin in the future would have been for the sake of not putting herself at risk again – that is being stoned.  Such an act of mercy in itself would have been notable, but Jesus goes much further than just giving her life back; he invites her to avoid sin not only for the sake of reducing her risk but also because of a loving relationship with Him.  Her motivation to do the right thing should be governed more by love than by fear.  The same is true for us.  Sometimes when we are held accountable for our sin we just pray to be delivered from the moment but God wants more from us than our avoidance of punishment; God wants us to enter into a deep and life-changing communion of love with Him and to let our decision and actions be guided by that love.  Such a life will not only lead us to avoid sin, but actually inspire us to please God by our pro-active actions of love and mercy for others.  That is the disciple Jesus wants us to be!”

I hope you enjoyed this reflection authored by Bishop Mueggenborg as much as I did.  If you’d like to have a look at his book, here is the link:  Come Follow Me

We will have five priests visiting us this evening after Mass at 6:30 offering us all a chance to meet with God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Please consider joining us.

With Love,