5th Sunday of Lent Year C:
In today’s gospel we hear the story of the woman caught in adultery. This is a helpful and insightful gospel. But, unfortunately, it really only applies to people who are sinners. So if you are not a sinner you can stop paying attention for the next couple of minutes. Now, for the rest of us, we are all included here. All of us who are sinners should see ourselves in this passage. Whether our sins are like that of the woman, or that of the Pharisees and scribes, this story is talking about us. I think that if we reflect on this passage we will gain a terrific insight into God's mercy, especially the sacrament of reconciliation.
At the heart of this story is Jesus. He is put in a terrible position. The scribes and Pharisees are trying to trap him. According to the law this woman should be put to death for her sins. If Jesus simply overlooks the woman's sin he would give the impression that sin does not matter and that we should overlook the commandments. But, stoning this woman contradicts his message of mercy: God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son so that all those who believe in him might have eternal life. Jesus came to lift us out of sin, not to smite us on account of sin. His solution to the problem is very simple and beautiful. He reminds the scribes and Pharisees that none of us are free from sin, if we remember that we are all in need of God's mercy, we will be more merciful to others. But, then he tells the woman, go and sin no more. Jesus tells us that we all need God’s mercy, and we need to move away from sin.
When I meditate on this passage I think about the sacrament of Confession because it really covers all sinners. Sometimes we are like that woman. Maybe there is someone out there who is struggling with grave sin. If so, we have absolutely nothing to fear. God is all love, all the time. Christ did not come to condemn, but to heal. The woman in the story must have seen that compassion written on his face, or else she would have reacted quite differently. Of course confession makes us nervous, don't you think the woman caught in adultery was nervous? But, we have nothing to fear. Jesus came not to condemn, but to heal. This is what the condemning men in the story did not understand at first. More than likely, this is what we fail to understand as well. It is easy to pick up those rocks and hurl them at others who may be sinners, or have offended us personally. But, how can we judge others when we acknowledge our own sinfulness. The central message of this story is that mercy is for everyone; confession is for everyone, when we go to confession Jesus speaks to us: I do not condemn you, go and sin no more.
Today’s spiritual work of mercy is bearing wrongs patiently. This gospel shows us a great way to bear wrongs. First, Jesus did not react harshly to the Pharisees, nor to the woman in adultery. He was put in a terrible position, but he remained calm. Also, his core message really helps us to be more patient: the person without sin is the only one who has the right to judge and condemn. Since none of us are without sin, none of us have the right to condemn or criticize. It is certainly the case that we all get wronged in our lives. We all have times when the sins of another person directly affect us. These moments can be terribly painful and frustrating. Our default position is probably to become angry or frustrated. But, the next time you are wronged, say a simple prayer with the words of Christ: let the one with no sin be the first to throw a stone. By humbly acknowledging that more than likely we have been the cause of a wrong inflicted on others might help us to respond more generously. I know that when I mess up, I’m hoping that the people I offend respond to me with generosity and patience. Therefore, it’s a good habit for us to attempt to do the same. You can practice this when you are driving. How many of us have been frustrated and angry when behind the wheel? We get inconvenienced by the actions of other drivers. But, I’m sure, if we are honest, that there must have been many times that our actions have been the source of someone else’s frustration. “Let the one who is the perfect driver be the first to honk the horn.” Knowing I’m not perfect helps to become more patient with the imperfections of others.
Remember, Jesus did not come to condemn, to accuse us, or to discourage us. Jesus came to inspire us, to lift us up, to heal us. In the sacrament of Confession we see the compassionate face of Christ; he forgives us, heals us, and then sends us away with a challenging but inspiring message to go and sin no more. As we enter into the last two weeks of Lent, it is a wonderful time for us to make use of the sacrament of confession. We will have many extra hours of confessions in the next couple of weeks, and our parish penance service is this Thursday at 7:00. I'm sure that most of you are already planning to go to confession. But, maybe somebody here is nervous or afraid. Maybe someone thinks they have done something so bad that they cannot be forgiven, think of today's story and trust in the compassion of Christ.