5th Sunday of Lent

John 8: 1-11

indexLast Sunday’s Gospel, the parable of the Prodigal Son, is probably one of the best known and loved of the parables of Jesus.  It is illustrated very beautifully in the famous painting by Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son.  This painting provides us with much material for contemplation and meditation on the mercy and compassion of God.  The father of the two sons in the parable is put before us as an image of God the Father.  On close inspection of this painting we can see the hands of the father are both masculine and feminine, one strong and the other gentle.

Pope Saint John Paul once said that ‘Hands are the heart’s landscape’, because of how much we can tell by the way people use their hands.  Today’s Gospel story is all about hands!  The accusing fingers of the Pharisees are in stark contrast to the beckoning hands of Jesus.  But there are other hands in between the lines, with various gestures, describing this encounter between Jesus and the one who is perceived to be a sinner.

When a mob gathers and looks for support the waving hands soon gather from every corner; they won’t initiate but they will follow the crowd.  Cruel hands drag the woman and throw her into the centre of attention.  Perhaps her trembling hands attempt to hide her face and shame.  Then we see the pointing fingers of criticism – ‘“this woman!” (it’s as if she had no name), caught in the very act of adultery …against the law! … to condemn! … Stone her!’  There are fists clenched in anger at the outrage.  There are hands clasping rocks for punishment.  There are mock-encouraging gestures to Jesus to his judgement.

Yet, how relaxed are the hands of Jesus, who bends down and writes with his finger on the ground.  He was not writing her sins, he was drawing attention away from her, putting her faults into the background.  That one relaxed hand gives her a ray of unexpected hope.  This hand of compassion plays in the dust of creation, restores the dead to life – “Go away, and don’t sin anymore”.

When David had the choice to make he said “Let us rather fall into the hand of God, since his mercy is great, and not into the hands of men.” (2 Sam 24:14) 

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!