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.

From a colorful and varied background as a professor of theology, a father of five, business owner, and professional performer Marcellino D’Ambrosio (aka “Dr. Italy”) crafts talks, blog posts, books, and videos that are always fascinating, practical, and easy to understand. He is a TV and radio personality, New York Times best-selling author, speaker, and pilgrimage host who has been leading people on a journey of discovery for over thirty years. For complete bio and video, visit the Dr. Italy page.

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