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Gospel for Sunday, April 3: John 8: 1-11

V Sunday of Lent C

1Jesus then set out towards the Mount of Olives. 2But at dawn he went again into the temple, and all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3Then the scribes and Pharisees bring him a woman caught in adultery and, placing her in the middle, 4they say to him: “Master, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5Now Moses, in the Law, commanded us to stone women like this. What do you think?”. 6This they said to test him and to have something to accuse him of. But Jesus, bending down, began to write with his finger on the ground. 7And when they persisted in questioning him, he raised his head and said to them: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8And bending down again, he wrote on the ground. 9But when they heard this, they went away one by one, starting from the oldest to the last. Only Jesus remained with the woman in the middle. 10Then Jesus stood up and said to her: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”. 11And she replied: “No one, Lord”. And Jesus said to her: “Neither do I condemn you; go and from now on sin no more”.

John 8: 1-11

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (

Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.

The passage of the forgiven adulteress (Jn 8.1-11) is now considered by all commentators to be a pericope that does not belong to the Gospel of John. Language, style, literary genre and position are profoundly different from the fourth Gospel. The passage is considered a later insertion, so much so that it was inserted into the Greek Bible only after 900, while Jerome included it in the Vulgate. The story seems ancient: Eusebius, Papias, the Gospel of the Jews and the other apocryphal “The Savior’s Revenge” talk about it; and Augustine also comments on it.

Is it Giovanni’s or others’? Style, vocabulary (the words: “Mount of Olives”, “at dawn”, “people”, “scribes”…), grammar are not John’s. Some manuscripts do not place the story here, but after 7.36 or at the end of the Gospel; other manuscripts insert this pericope in the Gospel of Luke at chapter 21,38, both because it fits well there as narrative logic, and because the style of the story is much closer to Luke than to John

Why is it inserted right here in John, interrupting the story of the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn 7.1-9.41)? Bianchi finds this brilliant because a little later Jesus will say: “I judge no one” (8.11); “Who among you can convince me of sin?” (Jn 8.46). Hoskyns also states that even if the story is contextually out of place, theologically it introduces the theme of judgment of chapter 8 well.

Last question: is the pericope considered canonical or not? In the Catholic Church the criterion is the acceptance of the Vulgate, therefore it considers it fully canonical, that is, the Word of God for us today. The Byzantine Church sanctioned its canonicity after 900; so it was with the Bible of James I, the official version of the Anglican Church.

  • 4-5: Dt 22,22 and Lev 20,10 condemn the adulterous death by stoning, a punishment which after the second century will be changed to strangulation.
  • 6-8: Jesus is asked for an opinion, like Solomon in 1 Kings 3, like Daniel in Dn 13.51, but to trap him: if he decides in favor of the woman he is clearly going against the Torah: God wrote “Do not commit adultery” on the tables (Ex 20.14; Dt 5.18)! If he orders her to be stoned, it is in contradiction with his message of forgiveness and he will have trouble from the Romans, who have taken away the power to condemn to death from the Sanhedrin (Jn 18.31).

Jesus does not take a stand but “began to write with his finger on the ground” (Jn 8:6). What does he write? “The meaning of this gesture – notes the Jerusalem Bible – remains obscure”. Let’s try to shed some light. Jerome says that he wrote down the sins of the accusers. Some commentators recall Jer 17:13: “Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have abandoned IHWH, the fountain of living water.” Brown states that “Jesus simply drew lines on the ground while he was thinking and thus showed imperturbability”: it was a Semitic custom to scribble on the ground in moments of disturbance.

But perhaps here we need to remember Ex 31,18: “When the Lord had finished speaking with Moses, he gave him the two Tablets of Testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God”; Ex 32,16: “The Scripture was God’s writing written on the Tablets”; Ex 34.38: “The Lord wrote the words of the covenant on the Tablets”: in our passage Jesus is called “Lord” (Jn 8.11). Jesus is writing a new Law: twice he bends down to write as God had twice bent down on Sinai to give the Torah.

Jesus neither defends nor accuses the woman, but reverses the perspective of the question. Dt 17.7 required that those who had to throw the first stone be the witnesses to the crime: the new Law written and proclaimed by Jesus requires that only those who are without sin before God can accuse.

Pope Francis comments: “Jesus’ interlocutors are closed in the narrow confines of legalism and want to confine the Son of God in their perspective of judgment and condemnation. But He did not come into the world to judge and condemn, but to save and offer people a new life… We must be aware that we too are sinners! When we speak ill of others – all things we know well -, how much good it will do us to have the courage to drop the stones we have to the ground to throw them at others, and think a little about our sins!… «Woman, where I am?” (Jn 8.10), Jesus tells her. And this observation is enough, and his look full of mercy, full of love, to make that person feel – perhaps for the first time – that he has dignity, that she is not her sin, she has a dignity as a person; she who can change her life, she can get out of her slavery and walk on a new path… That woman represents all of us, who are sinners, that is, adulterers before God, traitors of her faithfulness to her. God does not nail us to our sin, he does not identify us with the evil we have committed. We have a name, and God does not identify this name with the sin we have committed. He wants to free us, and he wants us to want it too together with Him. He wants our freedom to convert from evil to good, and this is possible – it is possible! – With his grace”.

Happy Mercy to all!

Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at


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