3rd April 2022 – 5th Sunday of Lent, Year C
(1) Isaiah 43:16-21
The prophet promises the exiles a new Exodus
Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
“Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honour me, the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.”
Responsorial: Psalm 125
R./: The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy
When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage,
it seemed like a dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
on our lips there were songs. (R./)
The heathens themselves said:
‘What marvels the Lord worked for them!’
What marvels the Lord worked for us!
Indeed we were glad. (R./)
Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage
as streams in dry land.
Those who are sowing in tears
will sing when they reap. (R./)
They go out, they go out, full of tears,
carrying seed for the sowing:
they come back, they come back, full of song,
carrying their sheaves. (R./)
(2) Philippians 3:8-14
Holiness is a gift, a sharing in Christ, in utter trust
I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Gospel: John 8:1-11
Instead of judging, the accusers must examine themselves
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
No more machismo
They brought in a woman they had caught in adultery. Three terms express their sense of dominance: “They caught her.” “They brought her.” “They made her stand before them all.” They bristled with righteous indignation as they asked Jesus for his view. In their eyes, her fate is sealed: it must be death by stoning, according to the law. No one talks about the adulterous man involved. As always happens in a sexist society, the woman gets condemned and the man walks free. Their challenge to Jesus is head-on: “In the law, Moses has ordered us to stone women of this kind. What have you got to say?” Jesus opposes such arrogance and machismo. No sentence of death comes from God. With admirable audacity, he brings in truth, justice and compassion to bear on the act of judgment: “Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her”.
The accusers go away shamefaced. They know that they are guilty of many things themselves. Then Jesus speaks with tender respect to the woman who has just escaped execution: “Neither do I condemn you”. He encourages her to make her gift of forgiveness the starting point for a new life: “Go away, and from this moment on, sin no more”. That’s how Jesus is. Here, finally, is a man not conditioned by any oppressive law or power; a free, magnanimous individual who never hated or condemned, never returned evil for evil. In his defence of this sinner there is more truth and justice than in our resentful demands and name-calling.
Maybe we haven’t yet managed to unpack all the consequences in Jesus’ liberating action in the face of this woman’s oppression. Working in a Church that is directed and inspired mostly by men, we often fail to be aware of all the injustices that women keep suffering in all areas of life. One theologian spoke a few years ago about the revolution ignored by Christianity.
We still live in a society where women often cannot move about freely without fear of men. Rape, physical abuse, humiliation aren’t imaginary things. On the contrary, they form perhaps the most deeply rooted violence and the one that causes the most suffering. Doesn’t the suffering of women need to echo more strongly and more concretely in our church celebrations, and have a more important place in our work of social conscience-raising? Above all, don’t we need to be closer to each oppressed woman in order to denounce abuses, offer an intelligent defence and effective protection? [J A Pagola]
The Pharisees’ mistake
What motivated the Pharisees in that confrontation about sin and punishment? They caught a woman in the act of adultery and brought her into the Temple precincts, thronged with people, to shame her as publicly as possible. Then they wanted to carry out the death penalty as laid down in the Torah, namely death by stoning. As an added extra, they wanted to use the occasion to discredit Jesus in the eyes of his followers. “What have you to say?” they demand of him. If his response was simply, “Leave the woman along; let her go free,” they could accuse him of condoning adultery. But if he agreed with their sentence, he would be seen as lacking in mercy. Jesus saw through their plotting and made them withdraw in confusion.
What did Jesus write with his finger on the ground? The Gospel gives us a possible clue. It does not use the normal Greek word for “write” (graphein), but a compound word (kata-graphein) which means to draw up a condemnation. Possibly he may have listed on the ground some common sins against humanity, to make them think. At any rate, his challenge that the person who was without sin should cast the first stone met with no response. Although Jesus did not condemn the woman, neither did he excuse what she had done. “Don’t sin any more,” was both a pardon and a warning to her.
Like the Pharisees, we may be tempted to imagine a God in our own image and likeness, as a stern, punitive father, who can be persuaded to forgive only after our abject repentance. This kind of religion can be cold and loveless. And as St Paul says in the 2nd Reading, trying to relate to God just by strictly keeping the Law is an obsolete kind of religion. Only when we let God’s love, as seen in Christ, to embrace and change our heart, can we begin to grow.
To judge from today’s gospel, the worst of the seven deadly sins seems to be not lust, but pride. The Pharisees’ proud self-righteousness left them feeling no need to ask God for mercy. Like the woman in danger, we need to admit our own sins and pray for mercy rather than condemn others. Even when we fail in our ideals, we trust in the mercy God extends to the sinner. For even our sins make no difference to God’s enduring love for us.