5th Sunday of Lent Year C – 16
Is.43:16-21, Phil.3:8-14, Jn.8:1-11
There are three people in today’s Gospel passage: The woman; the group called “scribes and Pharisees”, and Jesus.
During the feasts of the Tents, one of the joyous and important feasts of the Jews, an unfortunate incident took place: a woman was caught in adultery. According to the Law of Moses (Lev.20:10) such a woman should be stoned to death.
The Jewish leaders used this occasion to trap Jesus. They knew: if Jesus allowed her to be stoned to death according to the law, he could not be called the merciful teacher. If he forgave her he would be accused of infringing the Law. In both cases Jesus could be trapped: so they pressed for an answer to the question: “What do you say?” (Jn.8:6)
Now let us just turn our attention to the woman: What was going through her mind? She was being dragged to the Lord. She had to have been terrified. Certainly these men were going to kill her. The woman was caught in adultery.
Women have been killed for far less. Even in our modern times, women are treated throughout the world as chattel, their lives completely dependent on the will of their fathers, brothers or husbands. Horrible things continue to happen to women in the name of religion.
Another travesty was about to take place, when the woman was brought before the Lord. She certainly expected to die. She must have been panic struck as they threw her before the Lord.
She also must have been ashamed. People were laughing at her. They treated her like dirt. Perhaps she herself thought she was dirt. If they didn’t kill her, what type of life would she have left? Who would marry her? Who would give her a place to stay? Who would have mercy on her? She might as well die.
The better-than-thous of her society, shouted that she had to die. The Law of Moses demanded it. What would this Jesus say about that? They were certain that they had him. His hands were tied. This, the Kindest Man to ever live, would have to oppose the Law or agree that she should die.
And through the clamor, she looked up, and saw the Lord looking at her. Compassion for her flowed through him. Nobody cared about her before. The man or men, who used her sexually, didn’t care that she was going to die. The leaders of her people didn’t care about her. Her own family probably disowned her. But Jesus cared.
Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. He does condemn adultery (Mt.5:27). Sin is sin and injustice is injustice. But ultimately what is important is: “Sin No More”.
On the other hand, Jesus teaches that we should keep ourselves aloof from all self-righteousness. Often we condemn others and forget thereby that we also need first of all to be righteous.
Just imagine the way Jesus is dealing with her. All are there but then there was the silence. He sat down and began writing on the ground. Again there was silence. The silence must have been overpowering. Finally, he spoke. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
And the sheer dynamism of his voice, the kindness and compassion of his voice, forced her accusers to return to the holes from which they had climbed out. And the group melts away one by one.
“There is no one to accuse you”, asked Jesus. Then, “nor shall I. But go and sin no more.”She left, not just with her life, but with a new dignity. She had been forgiven. She now could embrace a new life.
You know what St. Augustine said, “In the end of the story only two remained: “miseria” and “misericordia” – misery and mercy. The woman represents “miseria” – human misery. Jesus embodies “misericordia” – he is the mercy of God.
The story exposes a basic message of the Christ: the divine mercy is greater than law. If Jesus the one without sin could forgive sinners, how much more should we sinners forgive each other?
What is demanded here is a radical change of heart. God’s forgiveness presupposes also our readiness to forgive, as we pray: “Forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Story: The Duke Wellington was about to pronounce the death sentence on a confirmed deserter. Deeply moved, the great General said, “I am extremely sorry to pass this severe sentence, but we have tried everything, and all the discipline and penalties have failed to improve this man who is otherwise a brave and good soldier.”
Then he gave the man’s comrades an opportunity to speak of him. ‘Please, your Excellency,’ said one of the men, ‘there is one thing you have never tried. Forgive him.’ The General forgave him and it worked; the soldier never again deserted and ever after showed his gratitude to the Iron Duke.
Yes, to err is human, to forgive is divine. What can we learn from this story during this Lent?
First, we are responsible for our own sins. We all have our pasts and particularly those moments which are regrettable. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Secondly, we can make corrections in our lives. How beautiful it is that God, rich in mercy, can wash us clean and make us whole. Jesus will give us a new day. In today’s story, Jesus sees a potential saint in a miserable sinner. God transforms our lives.
Thirdly, God is telling us that He is interested in our future than in our past. In our first reading the Lord says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.”
God has already dealt with your past. Go, and sin no more is not a statement of judgment, but one of encouragement. Jesus’ main interest was on her present and future.
How beautiful it is that our Lord is much more interested in our recovery than in our missteps. The new covenant we find in Christ is all about renewal.
If you want to run a successful race you must keep your eyes forward, toward the goal to be reached, and not backwards on the road already crossed. Chances are good that if you run with your eyes looking backwards you are going to run into a tree!
St. Paul says in our second reading, “Forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead. Press on toward the goal.”
Jesus does not condemn the woman for her conduct, but challenges her to begin life afresh. This is the challenge Jesus puts to us each Lent:
Begin life afresh and let others begin life afresh after they have hurt us. Let us reflect that we are all sinners, we are in need of mercy, and we need to make fresh starts.
Let us pray today for the conversion of sinners, beginning with ourselves. The time is right for the harvest. This is the time of year, the last weeks of Lent, when many people will be reconsidering their lives, thinking that they can be better, infinitely better than they have been.
Let us pray for the conversion of sinners, starting with ourselves, and extending our prayers to all who are full of guilt, full of shame, afraid to change, and wondering is there any hope of forgiveness for them.
I would like to conclude with an exorcism prayer that we can use: the Breastplate of St. Patrick. March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day. I am making his prayer available to you – the Breastplate – St. Patrick’s armor against Satan. In the prayer he asks for “God’s shield to protect him…from the snares of demons, from temptations and vices.” Then he says:
Christ with me, Christ before me… Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of
everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
We are in a spiritual war. It sometimes seems like a losing battle, but did you notice that Isaiah speaks today about a “powerful army.” That army is Jesus with his host of angels and saints. As we will experience dramatically in Holy Week, in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we receive power – the Breastplate, the armor we need for spiritual combat.
Take up the Breastplate, put on the armor of Christ – for your own salvation and for the sake of your children and grandchildren. Amen.