The Cost of Forgiveness

Photography © by Andy Coan

Photography © by Andy Coan

It really looked like the end of the road for her. Caught in the act of a capital crime, her fate lay in the hands of an angry mob. Desiring to kill two birds with one stone, the rabble decided to use her as a political pawn, and so dragged her to Jesus.

But they badly miscalculated. He replied to their tough question with a tougher question. They planned to embarrass him. But he embarrassed them. Reduced to silence, they were forced to admit the hypocrisy of their self-righteousness. They walked away and left her standing there before the only one who was truly righteous. But Righteousness did not condemn. He forgave. Now that’s different! It really hadn’t been seen ever before, at least not like this. “See I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”  (v. 19 of Isaiah 43, but please, read the whole chapter!).

Jesus offers this anonymous adulteress a brand new start. She could have been Mary Magdalene, as in Mel Gibson’s film. Or she could have been anyone. We are all guilty of adultery, at least in sense that the book of Hosea uses the word. God is the spouse who has given us everything and deserves our exclusive loyalty. We should worship the ground he walks on. But instead we’ve cheated on him, looking for thrills from other lovers who have not delivered what they promised. Given that he is the source of Life itself, rejecting Him means choosing death.

It seems so easy for Jesus to say to the adulteress (and to all of us) “neither do I condemn you.” With those words, he saved her from death and gave her a new lease on life. So what did it cost her? “Go and sin no more” is her program. She must change her life.

But what did it cost Him? Everything. He was required not just to change his life, but to lose it. In Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, one of the most poignant scenes is when mother Mary rushes to be with Jesus as he collapses under the weight of the cross. In that agonizing moment that he looks up at her and says, “See, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

A famous German theologian murdered by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pointed out the difference between “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Grace is free. It is the absolutely unmerited gift of pardon and loving friendship extended to us by God in a way that transforms us and makes all things new. But such grace is not cheap. It was paid for by the suffering of God’s Son; suffering that he willingly embraced out of love for us.

Saul needed this grace desperately. He occupied a conspicuous place among the self-righteous, a member of the blood-thirsty crowd that stoned Stephen. When on the road to Damascus he realized who he was and what he deserved, he saw the grace offered to him as more precious than gold. It was the pearl of great price. In light of this treasure, all else appeared as trash (he actually uses a rather vulgar word for “compost” in Phil 3:8). He was not satisfied to be a passive spectator. Rather he wanted to share personally in Christ’s sufferings and so come to experience the exhilarating power of his resurrection, the love that is stronger than death. He saw the heavenly finish line ahead and decided to go for the gold.

That grace is available to you. The question is, how precious do you view it? What value do you place on it? It is offered to you daily through the Eucharist, the Word of God, and prayer. Are you too busy to fit these into your schedule?  How much effort do you make to grasp the prize? Are you sprinting, walking, or just moping?

Actions speak louder than words. Let’s examine where we spend our time, money and energy. That will tell us what it is that we really value most.

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Sunday of the Fifth Week of Lent (Year C) – Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalms 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11. This series for reflections on the coming Sunday Readings usually appears each Wednesday.

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 1.800.803.0118. This article is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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