In the Gospel for today we are given the figure of the woman caught in adultery. Let us take a moment and consider the situation of this woman. The reading does not tell us anything more about her. We can suppose that this was not the first act of adultery she ever committed. More likely she had been in an illicit relationship with a married man for some time. She would have known that what she was doing was sinful, contrary to God’s law, and she probably felt shame. Maybe she wished that she could find another way to live but felt unable to break free from her sinful lifestyle.

Now she has been “caught in the very act of committing adultery.” She is exposed, ashamed, and afraid. No doubt she also feels angry and betrayed. Since the Gospel passage makes no mention of the man she was with, we can suppose that he fled and left her to face her accusers alone. She is publicly on display as a great sinner, and now likely condemned to death. This is her condition as she stands before her accusers.

But suddenly there is a twist in the story! Jesus’ response to the tense situation changes everything – first with his silence, and then with his challenging words to the crowd. Those who are condemning the woman walk away and she is left alone with Jesus. He does not condemn her; rather he tells her to go and sin no more. In this week’s Spiritual Reflection, Pope Francis tells us that, when Jesus says to the woman, “Go and do not sin again,” he “opens a new path to her, created by mercy.” He is offering the woman in this moment the grace of conversion, which is a rejection of sin and an embrace of his way.

The woman had been walking a tragic path which was destined to end very badly for her, and she seemed to have no way to free herself from her situation. But in a moment of grace, Jesus breaks in with his mercy, freeing her from her enslavement to sin and offering her a new life. He would not say to her, “Do not sin anymore,” unless he were also supplying her the grace to leave behind her adulterous life and begin anew. The choice is hers, but he is opening to her a whole new possibility if she will accept it.

We can call to mind here Jesus’ words as he looked with sadness upon Jerusalem, knowing that the city was going to face destruction because it would not accept him: “The days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Lk 19:43-44). For the woman, this moment is the time of her visitation. Jesus has come into her life and offered her freedom from sin and condemnation, and the grace to begin anew – to have, in the words of the Pope, “a new future, a new life, a beautiful life, a life free from sin, a generous life.” We hope that she accepted this amazing mercy from the Lord and changed her life.

We who have been walking throughout these weeks of Lent have come to see that we are no different from this woman. We too have been trapped in our sin condition, wanting to be free of our compulsions, our disorders, our sinful ways, but feeling unable to overcome them. We feel ashamed and condemned at times by interior voices which tell us that we are not good enough, not worthy of God’s love. Today, in this liturgy, Jesus breaks into our lives as well. He confronts and banishes our accusers, and offers us an opportunity for conversion, the grace to begin anew, to leave behind our sinful way of life and take up a new life with him.

Thus, the Lord speaks to us through Isaiah in the first reading: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” And St. Paul tells us that he focuses on only one thing: “forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”

Therefore we need not be discouraged by how we have fallen or failed in the past. Nor do we need to lose heart because of our own weakness, for it is the Lord who will accomplish the great work in us, by his power, if we open ourselves to him. As the Psalm for today proclaims: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”

This time, now, as we begin this Fifth Week of Lent, is the time of our visitation. Jesus breaks into our lives, as he broke into the life of the adulterous woman, and he offers to free us from sin and condemnation by his power at work in us. He even tells us in the Gospel Acclamation how we can most fruitfully respond to him: “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart; for I am gracious and merciful.” Let us accept his great gift of mercy with joyful and grateful hearts, trusting in him to bring us into his new life. Let us take up the response of our Mother Mary, “Yes, Lord, may it be done to me according to your word” (cf. Lk 1:38).

In what ways have I acted like the accusers in the Gospel? What is my inner response when I am convicted in my conscience of my sin? During Lent, how have I been responding to God’s mercy as he always forgives me?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.