“Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
What would it have been like to have heard these words from the lips of Jesus Christ? Imagine that you are filled with guilt, true guilt. You have been engaged in one of the most sinful behaviors known to mankind: adultery, the behavior in which you break your vows before God and man and act in such a way as to sever all of the most relationships in the world. For from adultery comes separation from God, from spouse, and from children. From adultery comes other sins and the undoing of faith, both in oneself and in others.
And you are guilty of it. And now imagine further that you have been dragged from bed, the bed of defilement, perhaps with nearly nothing on and spiritually naked before God and man. You have been caught in the act. There is no denying it. There is no legitimate defense, though you might try like others before you to blame it on the evil of your spouse or his or her neglect, or the weakness of the moment, or any piece of flotsam and jetsam you can get your hands on.
But you are guilty and know that the penalty, if prosecuted to the full extent of the Law, means the termination of your life. A painful and humiliating death by stoning.
All of this you know, and there is not anything you can do about it. You’ve made your bed and now you must lie in it, even if that bed turns out to be a grave.
But then, at the end of a spectacular turn of events, you hear those most blessed words: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
And then, after the story has ended and you’ve taken a deep breath and inhaled the last swig of the morning coffee, you realize that this story is about you. You are the one caught in adultery; you are the miserable sinner condemned to death; you are the one whose sins Jesus Christ has just forgiven, and you are the one He has commanded to go and sin no more.
I hope you were able to imagine yourself as the woman caught in adultery and successfully feel her sin and guilt. The sad truth is that sometimes we continue to sin against God and break His commandments and yet seem to not even notice. Another day, another sin (or dozens of sins is more like it). Ho hum.
I hope you were able to recognize yourself in the story. As Nathan the prophet told David: “Thou art the man.” You are the woman caught in adultery.
Every day you commit spiritual adultery against God by loving others more than Him and by violating the loving covenant relationship you have with Him. Every day you deserve to be dragged by the witnesses before Him, and every day you deserve to die for your sins. And every day you don’t die for your sins. Instead, you hear those most blessed words, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
But you will not hear those words if you do not hear all of them. You have no right to forgiveness at all. None. Nada. Zip. The only reason your sins are forgiven is because you are united by faith to Jesus Christ, the one who has taken your sins and become your righteousness before the Father.
But this faith requires faithfulness; this love of Christ requires your love (that is, obedience) in return. Therefore, “Go and sin no more” is directly connected to “Neither do I condemn you.”
What then, should be your response to Jesus Christ and His offer of forgiveness and life? During this season of Lent (and during any season), one of your primary responses must be that of repentance. You must, if you want to receive this blessed forgiveness and life, repent of your sins.
There are 3 parts to repentance, if it is to be genuine and tied to a true faith and faithfulness: contrition, confession, and amendment. Contrition means that you are truly sorry for your sins and acknowledge yourself to be a miserable offender against God. Don’t you think the woman in adultery recognized this like never before when she was before Jesus? Personally, I’d be more afraid (in spite of His mercy) to stand as an unrepentant sinner before Jesus than before my human accusers or executioners. Before Jesus, in whose presence you stand today, you must see yourself as a wandering and lost sheep. You must see yourself to be this woman caught in adultery.
Next comes confession. It’s not enough to temporarily recognize and remember that you’re a sinner: you must actually confess your sins before Almighty God. Call to mind and mention before the Lord the things you’ve done that you shouldn’t have done (sins of commission), as well as the things you haven’t done that you should have done (sins of omission). Think of the various categories of sin, and then call to mind the specific sins under these categories.
Finally, you must seek to amend your life, to actually turn from the sins you have been committing: “Go and sin no more.” To stop short of amendment of life in the process of repentance is to spit in the face of God. It’s an attempt to steal His good gifts of forgiveness and then refuse to live as one He has restored to life with Him. It’s to be the 9 ungrateful lepers. As you go through the process of repentance day by day, make sure to make plans to amend your sins.
But the story of the woman caught in adultery, which is your story, doesn’t end in sackcloth and ashes but in restoration and joy. The Lord has anointed His Messiah to proclaim liberty to the captives, to give us beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning (Isaiah 61:1-3).
Prayer: Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. Confess your sins by meditating on the 10 Commandments. Go through each, identifying all of the categories of sin under these 10 headings that you have committed.
2. Imagine that you are standing before Jesus Christ Himself. Allow yourself to become aware of your sinfulness before Him. What does standing before Him in this way provoke you to do?
Resolution: I resolve to practice confession and repentance today, not forgetting to make specific plans to amend the sins God is most leading me to turn from.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Woman Caught in Adultery – Rembrandt – From Wikipedia entry
Category: Give Us This Day