5th Sunday of Lent
Reading 1. Isaiah 43: 16-21
Reading II. Philippians 3: 8-14
Gospel. John 8: 1-11 (Woman caught in Adultery).
Remember last week when we read the story of the Prodigal Son, the Father said to his other son,
we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.
That same theme is continued in today's readings. Isaiah speaks of the desert coming to life again in the same way that our own streets and yards are coming to life again now that springtime is beginning to flower and the dead of winter seems to be over. Isaiah tells the people of God to forget the past for the Lord is "doing something new."
If the subject of last week's gospel was the Prodigal Son, this week's could be the Prodigal Daughter. However, the story of the woman caught in adultery is not a parable. It is a real life occurrence with life and death consequences. Jewish law required that a woman caught in adultery be stoned to death. If she was married or engaged the man involved would also be put to death. If she was unattached, the man usually got off unpunished. People in the ancient world did not think such discrimination unfair. This is one of the ways in which the teaching of Jesus represents such a break with the world before Christianity. Jesus and his followers raised women to equality with men and held men to the same standard.
In today's touching story Jesus literally saves the life of the accused woman. Next year at this time the reading for the 5th Sunday in Lent will be the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. In many ways today's story is just as miraculous. Do you recall another incident where Jesus was dealing with a paralyzed man. He told the poor man that his sins were forgiven but the onlookers murmured in disbelief. In reply, he asked them what was easier to do--to forgive sins or to work a miraculous cure? To prove that he had the power to do both he told the man to pick up his mat and walk.
Today, he saves the woman's life by freeing her from her accusers. "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Then he saves her life from her past. St. John tells us that when the crowd drifted away Jesus was left alone with the woman. This is probably one of the few times in the gospels when Jesus is left alone with anyone. Now it was a scandal in those days for a Jewish man, especially a rabbi, to converse in public with a woman. Nevertheless Jesus speaks with her.
Let's put ourselves in the picture and imagine that we are the woman. He asks, "Has no one condemned you?" We reply, "No one, sir." Then he wipes the slate clean. The past is forgotten, and a new life can begin. He says,
Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.
We live today in awe of psychology and psychoanalysis. Practically everyone who writes to Dear Abby or Ann Landers is told to see a counselor. Unfortunately too many of those counselors only encourage people to go back into the past and find the hidden causes of all their problems. Maybe you had an abusive or neglectful father, maybe a domineering mother. We are told that we cannot get on with our lives until our past life is encountered. For some people this means that they will never escape their past and the wrongs that they have committed or the wrongs that have been inflicted upon them.
This is why we should take a few moments to revisit today's difficult second reading from St. Paul. For Paul there is no looking back. All his past life, his training, his accomplishments, even his sins, he has come to regard as "so much rubbish." Like Isaiah, like the woman caught in adultery, he has been given a new life. He doesn't claim to be saved like a born again Christian. Rather, he has been given a chance to begin a new life. It will not be easy, he will have to endure suffering, he will make mistakes, and it will take a lifetime.
Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind
but straining forward to what lies ahead,
I continue my pursuit toward the goal,
the prize of God's upward calling, in Christ Jesus.