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Home : News : Pope Francis/Vatican
Pope: God upholds his law, but he forgives, doesn't browbeat sinners
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — When Jesus forgave the adulteress, he was not  questioning the sanctity of marriage; rather, he helped her recognize her sin and commanded she go in peace and sin no more, Pope Francis said.

"God forgives, not with a decree, but with a caress, caressing our wounds of sin," he said in his homily April 7 during an early morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Pope Francis' homily focused on the day's reading from the Book of John  (8:1-11), in which the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman "caught in adultery" before Jesus and press him to say how she should be treated.

They tell him that, according to the law, "Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" They asked to test Jesus, to entrap him and have some kind of charge to bring against him, the pope said.

He said it seemed that Jesus had only two ways to respond: He could have held to the letter of the law or dismissed the law outright.

"If Jesus had said, 'Yes, yes, go ahead with the stoning,' they would have told the people, 'Hey, this teacher of yours who's so good -- look at what he has done to this poor woman!'"

"And if Jesus had said, 'No, poor thing! Pardon her!' they would have said 'He's not carrying out the law,'" the pope said.

The scribes and Pharisees cared nothing about the woman or adultery, "perhaps one of them was an adulterer. They didn't care. The only thing they cared about was setting a trap for Jesus," the pope said, according to a report by Vatican Radio.

Jesus instead sees the law "and goes beyond it. He doesn't tell them, 'Adultery is not a sin!'" but neither does he condemn her with it, the pope said.

He tells the crowd, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." And one by one, they go away, leaving behind just the woman and Jesus.

The pope said the fact that all the woman's accusers left, unable to pretend they weren't sinners, shows that "their bank account in heaven had a big balance against them."

Jesus speaks to the woman as a confessor, asking her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

The pope said she doesn't try to make excuses or deny what she did, but recognizes her sin.

When she replied, "No one, sir," Jesus tells her, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore."

Jesus does more than forgive her sins, the pope said; he offers her "the mystery of mercy," which "is something that's hard to understand."

Jesus shows mercy by defending the sinner from her accusers and enemies and "defends the sinner from a just condemnation.

"We, too, how many of us, perhaps should be going to hell, how many of  us? That's the just thing, to be condemned ... and he goes beyond forgiving. How? With this mercy."

Underlining the seriousness of breaking one's marriage vows of fidelity, the pope said when the sacrament of marriage is "ruined with adultery, the relationship God has with his people is also soiled."

Because of God's mercy and forgiveness, a person's sins are "set aside"  like stars in the night sky, the pope said. All the stars are visible in the darkness, but when God, his mercy, love and tenderness appear -- like the sun, "with so much light, you can't see the stars."

God "doesn't humiliate, he doesn't say 'What did you do? Tell me?'" the pope said. He says, 'Go and sin no more;" he's directly "involved in our salvation," "forgiving us, caressing us."

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