On the Accusation of the Adulteress.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On the Accusation of the Adulteress.
Look upon the picture which the Evangelist St. John here sketches for us. See the Jews, feigning righteous indignation, in reality planning how they may ruin our Lord, standing around Him, having placed in their midst a woman whom they have brought before Him to be accused of a grievous sin. Having been caught in the very act, she trembles, conscious of her guilt and its penalty. “Master,” they say to Jesus, “Moses in the law commanded us to stone such an one. But what sayest Thou?” (St. John viii. 5.) Keep this scene before your mind while you meditate on the following points:
1st. “But Jesus bowed Himself down.” (v. 6.) Observe in this, St. Ambrose remarks, the divine reserve and the goodness of Christ. When the accusation is brought against the woman, He stoops His head to the ground, to indicate His wish to avoid all occasions of judging and punishing, nay, by hiding His countenance He appears desirous to manifest His reluctance, the shame He feels at being chosen to act as Judge, to pass sentence on a culprit, seeing that He came to show mercy unto all men. Jesus bowed down, St. Antony of Padua says, to indicate that those who are in authority ought not to be too prompt to listen to every charge, still less to take delight in hearing of the transgressions of their subjects; that they ought not instantly to think what penalty is to be inflicted, but should take everything into consideration, and maturely deliberate upon the nature of the offence, as well as on the person of the accused, of his accusers and the witnesses. Alas! how often we act in a way opposed to these wise counsels! How ready we are to judge, to punish, to censure, and evince pleasure rather than displeasure at having to do so. Here you have abundant reason to bow down, my soul, in penitence and confusion, but this time on account of your own fault, not that of another.
2d. “He wrote with His finger upon the ground.” According to the interpretation given by St. Bonaventure, the characters thus traced possessed a mysterious virtue, so that each of the accusers read in them his own sin. St. Jerome also says that our Lord wrote the names of those insolent individuals, and beside them the names of the persons they had seduced. Here are two points for your consideration, the awful nature of the divine omniscience, and the merciful leniency of God. Nothing is unknown to Him, nothing is hidden from Him. All your thoughts, your words, your actions are as if inscribed before His eyes! If therefore you are inclined to accuse your Brother of a fault, pause and call to mind Jesus writing on the ground; remember that all you have done has been inscribed by Him long since. On the other hand this mysterious writing manifests the merciful leniency of our Lord. To pretend to write is an accepted sign amongst the Jews that one wishes an unpleasant subject not to be noticed or discussed. Now as Jesus knew that the accusation, prompted as it was solely by a bad motive, would redound to the disgrace of those who brought it and increase their guilt, He desired to give them time to escape out of the snare they had laid for themselves, and elude the condemnatory verdict of the Judge. Learn from this, my soul, the value of Christian discretion and tact, which knows how to give others to understand, when occasion requires, that one wishes to appear as if one had not seen or heard what has passed. It may often be the means of effecting much good, and averting much that is undesirable, if an erring Brother is allowed time to come to a sense of his own fault, to acknowledge himself in the wrong, and enter upon a course of amendment.
3d. “As the Jews continued asking Him, our Lord lifted up Himself, and said to them: He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (v. 7.) The hardened sinners would not take the hint given them out of kindness, they persisted in demanding a definite decision, and it was given them in the foregoing answer, an answer, St. Augustine exclaims, truly worthy of divine wisdom. How adroitly Jesus leads these accusers to the knowledge of themselves. Their design was to bring public disgrace on the woman; it never occurred to them to look into their own heart. Their eyes are fixed on the adulteress, on themselves they do not so much as glance. Had they done this, they assuredly would not have turned their attention to her, as our Lord gave them plainly to understand. Furthermore: Moses had indeed commanded (thus St. Cyril of Alexandria explains our Lord’s words) that one guilty of adultery should be stoned, but this penalty was to be inflicted by those who kept the law, not by those who violated it. In the same manner we hear our Lord say: I do not forbid the stoning of the adulteress, but I will not have it done by men who themselves have transgressed the law not less, but more grievously. Reflect my soul, upon this verdict our Lord pronounces, a verdict equally wise and just. See that you, when you are called upon to pass judgment on any one, follow His example and first bow yourself down, that is carefully and deliberately weigh the matter; and in many cases write upon the ground, that is, leave the sinner time to amend. Learn also from our Lord’s answer to beware how you judge and condemn your neighbor. It behooves us first to amend our own actions before we endeavor to amend those of others. Begin with yourself, St. Gregory wisely counsels us; the right thing is first to judge ourselves, to punish our own sin, before we take up a stone to cast at our neighbor.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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