Jesus presents uswith the problem of the sins of others, how we respond – and how we should respond – to them.
We see sin in the world and we have a unique ability to recognize sin in others; at the same time, that gift seems to evaporate when we look to ourselves! With this blindness, we can act or judge others’ sins as if we ourselves were sinless.
While our own sinfulness should help us to understand and to help others, we can easily forget our own struggles and just as easily condemn others in the name of all that is right and just. The situation presented before Jesus in the gospel reading today is about fulfilling the Law. Jesus does not nullify the Law; rather, He makes us think about ourselves and ask this question: Are we qualified to judge others? The truth is that although the faults and the sins of others are real, we are obliged to act in the name of mercy, which does not condemn, but tries to save.
There are many ways to respond to sin. We can attempt to understand the situation in which the person lives, the circumstances that lead to sin, and to see how we can help that person. This does not mean that we justify their sins, but it will assist us to reach out to help the sinner. We should keep in mind that no sin is an isolated act. Sins are acts that have consequences for the individual and family, friends and acquaintances; sin also affects the life of the Church because we are all members of the Church as sons and daughters of God. We need to discover ways to help those who are subject to sin, and we need to begin with ourselves.
The interaction between Jesus and those around Him is very interesting. For those who want to accomplish what the law prescribes, He agrees and encourages them to look to themselves, to their own sins: “If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” The woman who was caught in adultery suffers the consequences of her sin and the cruelty of those who want to punish her. Jesus, who is the only one who could apply the force of the Law, shows her mercy, not condemnation, and He offers her encouragement: “Neither do I condemn you; go away, and do not sin any more.”
The sins of others should move us to act with mercy and to act with repentance. Let us look to ourselves, to our consciences, and repent because this is what the Lord wants of us: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11).