The following is a Lenten reflection by Bonnie Chester, Ursuline Associate.

Have you ever read of or saw a picture and imagined yourself in the scene? What would be your reaction to the event? Would you participate or would you be a bystander? Would you support or condemn the action taking place?

As I read happenings in the gospels, I like to place myself into a scene and spend some time with the episode in the life of Jesus Christ. The description of the sinful woman, accused of adultery, appears in the gospel of John, Chapter 8, verses 2-11. This one has always captivated me. This practice of just imagining leads into a fruitful time of meditative prayer.

Let’s place ourselves in the role of a scribe or Pharisee. They were constantly trying to discredit Jesus: “The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery and making her stand there in full of everybody, they said to Jesus, ‘What do you have to say?’” (Jn 8:3-5) This trap was particularly shrewd. If He forgave the woman, they would accuse him of contradicting the law of Moses. If He condemned her, He would lose His followers. Imagine the scene, maybe in the temple, where the most people would be listening to Jesus. The accusers probably thought this would be the perfect place to trip up this so-called prophet who had claimed that the Father had sent Him. “Moreover, the Father who has sent me has testified Himself on My behalf.” (Jn 5: 37) If Jesus extends His mercy, the crowd will accuse Him of condoning sin, and He won’t be the spiritual guide He claims to be.

Maybe you don’t want to be a part of the accusing mob, but just a wanderer upon the scene. You don’t want to get involved in the religious and moral infighting of the scribes and Pharisees. Don’t know about you but there have been plenty of times that I have just wanted to be that very person, not taking a stand and maybe not standing up for what I thought was morally right. “Let someone else speak up this time. My opinion probably doesn’t count anyway.” You most likely have compassion for the woman but outwardly showing it doesn’t come easy to you. This is a good place to stop and pray about your reaction to the event.

Perhaps you are the woman, herself. A reflection in the Word Among Us reads: “Perhaps you are the woman herself, profoundly aware not only of your adultery but of everything that led you to this moment. You know you’ve done wrong, but you feel helpless and trapped.” I have had times in my life when I have found myself in this predicament, haven’t you? What led up to this action in my life that I know in my heart is not pleasing God? There is no conversation between the woman and Jesus, but I can imagine one as they stand facing one another. Spend some time with this thought. I imagine her saying she is sorry and asking Him for His mercy. What would you say to Him?

Jesus, wisely as we know, challenges the crowd’s motives. He bends down and starts writing something on the ground. “As they persisted with their questions, he looked up and said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) “Then they went away one by one…until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there.” (8:9). Let your imagination fly with this scene, you, the woman, watch quietly, all the crowd is gone. What could He be writing? Was He recording all the sins of the accusers? Is He listing all of my faults and failures? Then He lifts His head and looks into your eyes, a life-giving look with compassion and forgiveness. The only conversation that John records, follows: “Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman where are they, no one has condemned you.” She replied, ‘no one sir.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (8:11) Don’t you imagine that she had a lot more to say? Tell the Lord what would be in your heart!

Lord, realizing that I need Your mercy enables me to forgive others and treat them with the love that You require of me. The more profoundly I experience Your forgiveness and mercy, which I often think I don’t deserve, the more I can let go of the ugly grudges that I sometimes harbor. I am sometimes at a loss for words. Fill me with your grace and wisdom. Let me be an ambassador for You, not a bystander.