“Neither do I condemn you... go away and do not sin any more.”


Whenever she heard the story of the woman who was taken in adultery, my mother always used to ask – with some anger in her voice – “What ever happened to the man who was taken in adultery?”

I don’t profess any great expertise in the matter, but even I know that adultery is a crime that takes two. So, what ever happened to the other one?

Well, of course, we shall never know – the scripture does not record - but I always wonder if that is part of what motivates Jesus in challenging the hypocrisy of the crowd who want to kill this woman. Hypocrisy is always the strict application of a law which you do not keep yourself – a law which you apply to some people, but not to others. It is the willingness to cast the first stone at some people, but to cover up the crime of others. And religious people are sometimes especially tempted to it.

Of all the things I ever do for people - either as a priest or a doctor, I am convinced that the most valuable is the time I spend hearing confessions.
When you have, as I often do, the immense privilege of hearing confessions, you come to know that there is no such thing as an unbroken person. There is no-one who can cast the first stone.

So, I am going to ask you to think for a brief moment of the worst thing you have ever done, or failed to do.
We all have at least one; most of us will have a few to choose from.
Something that I once did, that really hurt another human being;
... some kindness I could have done, but failed to do.
... the thing in my life that I am least proud of.
... my greatest failure.
... my greatest regret.
... my greatest lack of love.
... the one action or word I wish – I really wish - I could take back.

It may be in how I treated my parents,
... or how I treated my family or my wife or husband.
It may be in how I lied,
... or cheated
... or stole
- or how I betrayed a friend or a loved one.

I’d like to ask you to pick the very worst...
Let us all, just for one moment, think of that.
{And now turn to the person sitting next to you and… no, no, of course not, would I do that to you?}

It’s all-right – I’m not going to ask anyone to say what it is. But I will ask you to imagine – just imagine.
Now turn to the person sitting next to you and I want you to imagine what it would be like to tell that to the person in front of you. Imagine seeing their face change and their estimate of you fall.
And then I want you to imagine seeing that very thing on the front page of every newspaper in the country.
- perhaps with a photograph of you looking at your worst;
- the first item on every news bulletin on television or radio.

Imagine being the only subject of every conversation in every pub and bingo hall in the country.
When you walk down the street, people look at you and whisper;
children point at you and laugh.
The dogs bark at you in the street.
And out of all that is said to you – and about you,
there is nothing you can say in reply.
Because every word of it is true.

That is what it is in our day to be a public Sinner.
Not much has really changed since Jesus’ time.

But imagine, if you will, that there is someone to whom you go, who knows you and who loves you;

  • who knows what you have done and what you have failed to do,
  • and who doesn’t say it’s OK, because it isn’t,
  • but who understands that you are not the only one
  • who understands that all have sinned and fallen short of the Kingdom of God
  • and who can you give you back your self-respect.
  • And restore you to your best Self
  • The Human Being God made you to be.

That is what we call the sacrament of reconciliation.
That is the sacrament that Jesus gave to the woman caught in adultery.
If you haven’t been recently, I would like to recommend it to you.

Let us profess our Faith in God the Father of Forgiveness in the coming week.

Paul O'Reilly SJ