What did the woman caught in adultery feel? For a moment, place yourself in her shoes. She stands before the scribes and Pharisees condemned to death because she’s been caught in the act. They’re ready to stone her. She must have been filled with fear and shame. Fear and shame: two emotions that so often keep us turned away from the loving gaze of Christ. And yet Jesus stands there in the midst of her fear and shame. Jesus stands in the midst of those who are condemning and the one to be condemned. And it is Jesus who transforms the woman’s fear into hope and her shame into renewed dignity.
The beautiful revelation of this Sunday’s Gospel is that Jesus does not condemn us, but he desires to forgive us. Think of what a contrast this was for the woman: she goes from looking into the faces of angry men who want to condemn her, to looking into the eyes of a loving Savior who does not condemn her but rather forgives her and makes her new.
This Gospel invites us to gaze upon the face of Jesus. But we, like the woman, may be hindered from doing that. We, like the woman, may be struggling with fear and shame because we know we have at times strayed from the Lord. Fear and shame are consequences of sin. We experience fear and shame when we turn away from God who loves us infinitely. We experience fear and shame because sin is false beauty; it lures us away from true love. The woman was looking for true love where she couldn’t find it, and now True Love stands before her ready to embrace and forgive.
We are transformed when we open ourselves to the loving gaze of Jesus. When we look into his loving eyes the lure of sin is not as strong because we are touched by the love of God. You see, Jesus does not condone the woman’s sin; on the contrary, he tells her not to sin anymore. But sin is no longer attractive to her as she looks into his eyes. As she gazes upon his face her fear and shame melt away; she can simply let go and enter his divine embrace. She realizes that sin is not fulfilling but Christ alone can fulfill her.
Jesus does not condemn us for our sins, but neither does he want us to stay in our sin. Like the woman, he desires to make us new. In order to be renewed we must be willing to let go of fear and shame and look into the loving eyes of Jesus Christ. And when we gaze into the loving eyes of Christ we see our fulfillment, our hope, and our life.
Father Michael Najim is Spiritual Director of Our Lady of Providence Seminary, Providence, as well as Catholic Chaplain at LaSalle Academy, Providence.