5TH SUNDAY LENT C 2013
“Remember not the events of the past.” This may seem like strange advice for a penitential season, yet it is the theme of all three readings. The reading from Isaiah says; “No need to think about what was done before. See I am doing a new deed.” God is opening up new possibilities. Jesus, Paul and St. Patrick helped us see new ways of looking at and judging human relations, new ways of ministering with and to others.
Though on other occasions and in other letters the Apostle Paul reflects on his pride in being a Jew. He once believed salvation came through following the 613 laws of Moses, but he is now convinced he gains salvation only by imitating the dying and rising of Jesus. “For his [Jesus’] sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God” (vv. 8-9). This is new!
The gospel reveals that beautiful encounter of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery. “What have you to say Jesus?” They hope to put the rabbi who eats and drinks with sinners on a collision course with the sacred traditions coming from Moses. They hope to condemn him from his own mouth. But, if he agrees with Moses, he weakens his own teaching and cannot justify his behavior with sinners; but, if he rejects the Law of Moses, he can be denounced as no man of God.
The Law dictates that she is to be stoned. Will Jesus uphold the old? Jesus does something new. He writes in the dirt of the earth with his finger. Perhaps he wrote “adultery” and erased it easily with a brush of hand.
Jesus is clearly not willing to take the role of the judge. He does something new! The elders brought this woman of darkness to be stoned. Jesus is the light. He illumines their darkness of heart. We see our shadow only in the light.
Jesus had just hinted that he knew all their sins. “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” He knew but, he treated them with the same mercy that he showed to the adulterous woman. He bends down again and returns to his doodling in the sand. Because he averts his gaze from them he enables the woman’s accusers to slip away one by one without losing face.
Jesus’ mercy is not only shown towards the woman, it is also shown towards her accusers. But in neither case does he condone the crime. Both the woman and the Pharisees implicitly acknowledge their sin and Jesus condemns neither. He simply says in words to the woman and by his actions to the Pharisees: Go away and don’t sin any more.
Jesus forgives sin. He doesn’t ignore it. He doesn’t brush it aside but neither is he is shocked or upset. He forgives and invites the sinner to convert, to turn from their evil ways and embrace the good. What is the new that Jesus does? Judgement and condemnation cannot be life-giving; only mercy and undeserved grace.
Today is the feast of St. Patrick. We know of stories about shamrocks and snakes, but Patrick also initiated a significant new deed. In the late fifth century, going against all contemporary church regulations and practices, Patrick instructed his monks to give private penances to members of their monasteries when they came to them for spiritual direction. Up to that time, all confessional penances were public. According to church law, that meant that after someone performed his or her public penance, they could never again receive church forgiveness for their sins. This led to once-a-lifetime confession. Patrick knew that this Church practice aimed at applying public pressure for transformation of life was contrary to Christ’s practice that only mercy could change lives.
We have the great gift of the sacrament of reconciliation. Guilt about our sin must bring us to get up and go to our Father. Guilt without faith in the love of God and others is dangerous. Judas turned his guilt against himself and condemned himself, judged himself and took his own life.
In today's story, Jesus saw a lonely, frightened woman, manipulated by cruel, self-righteous men in their plot to destroy. He recognized that certainly she was a sinner but he also saw her as a victim.
Often the victim is blamed. Why are there women working the streets? Everyone has a story, a personal history. Why are there poor and hungry; why unemployed; why homeless? Life is made up of circumstances, negative experiences, opportunities and personal freedom that has shaped us.
To some who have been oppressed or had little opportunity, love, charity and justice must be offered. To others who are culpable and suffer through sinful choices, forgiveness and mercy must offer a new beginning.
Today is Solidarity Sunday. On Solidarity Sunday every year Development and Peace asks us, the faithful, to provide them with the money that they urgently need for development work, for emergency relief and for their education and action campaigns. During Lent, Development and Peace provides us with a mechanism and an opportunity to reach out and help. Last year D&P supported 129 sustainable development projects in 25 countries. In 2011-2012 D&P contributed @20.9 million to its international development and humanitarian aid programs. Be generous with what you have so as to learn to be generous with who you are.
Now we’ll hear from Ryanne, a 12 year old boy who just returned from an Oblate Mission Trip to Kenya. Welcome Ryanne.