5th. SUNDAY OF LENT (C)
(Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; John: 8:1-11)
When the Sunday Gospel tells of a remarkable miracle of Jesus or of a particularly well-known parable of His, that reading not only crowns -- as it is meant to do -- the other readings at Mass but also can smother them into relative insignificance. That could easily have happened with last Sunday’s Gospel of the Prodigal Son (or as some moderns prefer to call it the Prodigal Father) and could easily be the case with today’s Gospel about the woman taken in the very act of adultery. Both those Gospel accounts, however, though well-known and rightly appreciated by modern Catholics and Christians were, nevertheless, originally loved and most worshipfully understood by Mother Church in her development of the Catholic liturgy, in the course of which she decided to ‘assign’ two other readings to support, strengthen, or broaden the appreciation and application of the Gospel reading. For example last week’s Prodigal Son gospel was shown in the context of the whole liturgy of the Eucharist to be of more than just Prodigal-Father significance for our relationship with the heavenly Father. Similarly today, the jewel of divine wisdom contained in our Gospel reading is most admirably displayed in the setting of Mother Church’s full liturgical proclamation in today’s Eucharistic celebration.
Our first reading today emphasized the very essence of our human nature and the ultimate purpose for its creation. Mankind, having been originally created in the likeness of God, the Chosen People were formed for God, that they might announce His praise:
My Chosen People, whom I formed for Myself, that they might announce My praise.
And to enable, help, and guide His Chosen People in the fulfilling of that duty of praise, God gave them, through Moses, the Law.
However, in accordance with Isaiah’s appreciation of the wonder and the goodness of God we heard him declare in God’s name:
Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am DOING SOMETHING NEW.
And this continuing newness in God’s providence for mankind and His Chosen People came to its glorious climax in the GOOD NEWS of Jesus, our New Testament.
Now St. Paul was and is the supreme teacher of the nations in Mother Church’s proclamation of the Good News of Jesus, and he testified most eloquently in our second reading concerning the newness of God’s Providence for us, publicly manifested and to be personally experienced, in Christ Jesus, Our Lord:
I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His 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, depending on faith to know Him and the power of His resurrection and (the) sharing of His sufferings by being conformed to His death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Surely, dear People of God, those words resound in our minds and hearts having ourselves known in the gift of the Faith something of the beauty of God’s great goodness and majesty proclaimed in the teaching of Mother Church, and having experienced something of the loving proximity of the glorious Jesus to Whom our humanity -- thanks to His Gift of the Spirit -- still has sympathetic access and with Whom it can have glorious conformity. And St. Paul assures us (1 Corinthians 10:13) that such resonance with Jesus and the things of God that can thrill our whole being is ours to possess in confidence and hope, because:
God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength but with the trial will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.
Then however, in that context of the fullness of today’s liturgy came, in our Gospel reading, an anti-climax so tragically characteristic of mankind’s response to God. The religious leaders, taking advantage of human persistence in and affection for sin, try to destroy both the Mission and the very Person of Jesus by their abuse of the God-given Law:
Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now the Law of Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?
Their secret thoughts and deepest plans, however, they did not dare mention, for they would have expressed merely human cunning, not humble searching for and faithful trust in God: ‘The people expect us, and You most especially, to uphold our Jewish Law, but the Romans – our oppressors -- will not allow us to put anyone to death. What do You say?’
What a scenario!! The religious leaders try to use God’s Law against God’s Son; they try to turn the people against Jesus their Saviour and His redeeming mission and the Roman authorities against His humbly regal Person!
It is our Gospel reading that finally makes crystal clear the seriousness and depth of the issues involved in the apparently every-day issue of infidelity:
Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
Those words of Jesus show us that although the time for the condemnation of sinners is not yet; nevertheless, the ‘condemnability’ of sin -- it is absolutely not in any way trivial -- and its actual condemnation have indeed arrived with and in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour (John 16: 7-9; 15: 22, 24.):
When the Advocate, Whom I will send to you, comes, He will convict the world in regard to sin, because they do not believe in Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, if I had not done works among them that no one else did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both Me and My Father.
Let us now, therefore, turn our attention to Jesus’ very self, in His human attitude to both His ‘professional antagonists’, and to His thoughtlessly yielding-to-pleasure and ever-whining ‘it doesn’t really matter’ pseudo-supporters, and we find yet again Divine Love’s wisdom and patience most beautifully Personified. He does not argue with the Pharisees and Scribes, He respects what measure of love for the Law of God might possibly be behind their exposure of such immorality; He even seems to go just a very few steps along the way with them:
Let one among you be the first to throw a stone at her, IF HE IS WITHOUT SIN.
And thus His opponents are enabled to reluctantly withdraw, slink away, from the scene with a certain measure of humility-for-public-appreciation. What a wonderfully wise and divinely simple discomfiture!!
He then turns to the woman.
Notice there are no emotional words … imagine that! Modern leaders and commentators, whether with or without knowledge, would have been pouring forth humanistic sympathy and comfort!! For Jesus, however, sin is sin, ever real and hateful in whatever circumstances; the sinner, however, is not yet bound hard and fast, and salvation can still be hers, can still fill her heart and mind with peace and true joy, if she will turn her face from the easy and pleasurable way and begin to look for God:
Woman, has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.
And there, dear People of God, you can see the ultimate consequence of sin and the ultimate aim and purpose of the Liar, the Persuader, so many knowingly allow themselves to foolishly listen to and weakly follow:
They have seen and hated both Me and My Father.
In that so modern setting where devotion has to face up and respond to not only every-day and relatively thoughtless disregard and disdain for religious observance and love of God, but also to the more diabolical opposition of professional and powerful pride, big-time money and large scale pleasure, let us most gratefully cherish the refreshment afforded by those words of St. Paul:
Because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.