The story of the woman caught in adultery is a powerful one. In Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, his depiction of this scene really illustrates the power of forgiveness and the gift of being able to begin again.
In the movie, Mel Gibson identifies the adulterous woman with Mary Magdalene, who stays right by Mary’s side as they accompany Jesus through His Passion. (Scripture scholars don’t all agree with this idea that they were one and the same person.) The only reason we know that Mary Magdalene is the same person as the adulterous woman is because of a flashback that happens after the Flagellation scene (the scourging at the pillar).
Mary and Mary Magdalene are in the (flagellation) courtyard after all the soldiers have left. They see Jesus’ blood on the paving stones. Mary takes some clean white linens, kneels down and starts to wipe up the blood. A moment later, Mary Magdalene kneels down to help, but instead of using one of the clean linens, she actually removes her veil and uses that to wipe up Jesus’ blood. This is a way of showing how personal this gesture is for her. And in a moment we find out why.
While she is doing this, she has a flashback, and in the film we go back to her first encounter with Jesus, the one in which she was the adulterous woman. We see her cowering on the dusty ground as a crowd of angry Pharisees stand ready to stone her.
Then Jesus steps into the scene.
We don’t hear any words, but we know he is saying this beautiful line: “Let him who has no sin throw the first stone.” We see the Pharisees, one by one, drop their stones and walk off. Then Mary Magdalene’s hand reaches out to touch Jesus’ foot. She looks upon him in wonder, gratitude, and almost disbelief. She has been saved. Jesus reaches down and takes her hand in his, smiles, and raises her to a new life.
Then the flashback ends and we are brought back to the scene in the courtyard.
Now we see why the blood that she is wiping up means so much to her. It is the blood of the Savior, her Savior, the one who is giving himself up to death so that she can have a new life. Jesus’ blood can mean the same thing to us—He is giving Himself up to death so that we can receive another chance.
In the film, the director is vividly showing us what a profound effect Jesus had on Mary Magdalene when he suddenly entered her life at that crucial moment. It forever changed her—and she would never be the same again. Whether Mary Magdalene and the adulterous woman are the same person or not, I think it is safe to say that from the moment of that encounter with Christ her life was changed. While she was being publicly accused she felt she was beyond hope, scorned by all, feeling terrible about herself—which is how we feel sometimes in the face of whatever sins we have to constantly struggle with. But she learns in a very dramatic way to entrust herself to the mercy of Christ.
We are asked to do the same. In the face of our most frustrating or shameful sins, we are encouraged to do three things:
Face our sin
Encounter and accept mercy…