13Mar 13/March 2016. Fifth Sunday of Lent

1st Reading: 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 honor 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.”

Second Reading: 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, in order 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.”


Click here, for an audio commentary on today’s Readings.

An Ignored Revolution

They bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They all know her fate: be stoned to death according to what’s written in 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 doesn’t support such social hypocrisy fed by male arrogance. Such sentencing to death doesn’t come from God. With admirable audacity, he brings in truth, justice and compassion all together in the judgment of the adulterous woman: «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 the ones most responsible for the adulteries committed in that society. Then Jesus directs himself to the woman who has just escaped execution and with great tenderness and respect, tells her: «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. Finally there is in the world someone who hasn’t let himself be conditioned by any oppressive law or power; a free and magnanimous one who never hated or condemned, never returned evil for evil. In his defense and his forgiveness of this adulterous woman there is more truth and justice than in our resentful demands and condemnations.

We Christians 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.

Clearly, twenty centuries later, in countries with supposedly Christian roots, 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? But, above all, don’t we need to be closer to each oppressed woman in order to denounce abuses, offer intelligent defense and effective protection? [José Antonio Pagola]

The flaw in Pharisaic judgment

What do we make of the Pharisees in today’s gospel story? They caught a woman in the act of adultery and brought her into the Temple precincts, thronged with all kinds of people, making her stand before everyone to shame her as publicly as possible. Then they insisted that her execution should follow the full rigour of the Law of Moses, namely death by stoning. The Gospel sees their motive not as zeal for the Law, but to use the woman as a pawn to discredit Jesus. “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 ignoring the Law and condoning adultery. If, however, he were to say, “Let her be stoned to death,” then he would be seen as lacking in mercy, and as rejecting the legal restrictions set by Roman authority, which reserved the right to impose the death penalty. Jesus saw through their plotting and made them withdraw in confusion.

The intriguing question is what did Jesus write with his finger on the ground. The Gospel account gives us a possible clue. It does not use the normal Greek word for “write” (graphein), but rather one (katagraphein) which means to draw up a condemnation. Possibly Christ may have listed on the ground the sins of each of the woman?s accusers, and so his challenge that the one without sin should cast the first stone met with no response. Although Jesus did not condemn the woman, neither did he condone what she had done. “Don’t sin any more,” was his invitation and warning to her.)

In the case of the Pharisees, as we see, and indeed in the case of most of us, there is the subtle danger of creating God in our own image and likeness, imagining him to be a stern and demanding God, who takes revenge, who loves to punish, who can be persuaded to forgive only after we have made a great show of repentance. Such of course is a mere caricature of God. At best this kind of religion can be cold and loveless. At worst, as St Paul says in the 2nd Reading, trying to form a right relationship with God by mere adherence to the Law and all its ways can be as worthless as the rubbish one throws away. It is only when we allow the love of God, as seen in Christ, to encompass our lives, to change our inner being, that we begin to understand Christianity.

Contrary to the thinking of the Pharisees, we must fight the tendency to regard ourselves as better than others, no matter what commandments we keep; nor must we judge and condemn others. Rather should we be generous, forgiving and loving towards others. From the gospel story we see that the worst of the seven deadly sins is not lust as so many think. Indeed, Christ’s harshest condemnation was reserved for those who, like the Pharisees, in their pride and self-righteousness shut themselves off from God, who felt no need to ask God for help and grace. We cannot be true followers of Christ unless we acknowledge our frailty, our sinfulness, our need for his help which alone can save us. When we do fall we gain a deeper understanding of the extraordinary mercy God is prepared to extend to the sinner. For our sins make no difference to God?s enduring love for us.

St Paul says that all things work together for the good of those who love God (Rom 8:28). St Augustine adds, “Yes, even sin!” for from bitter personal experience, he more than most knew all about the false allure of sin, how difficult it is often to break away from it, and how God?s love alone can help us conquer it.

Scroll Up