April 7, 2019 Fifth Sunday in Lent Fr Jim Miller

Fifth Sunday of Lent  

Reading 1 EZ 37:12-14

Responsorial Psalm PS 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8.

  1. (7) With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.

Reading 2 ROM 8:8-11

Verse Before The Gospel JN 11:25A, 26

I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will never die.

Gospel  JN 11:1-45

Fifth Sunday of Lent—April 6 & 7, 2019


            We are nearing the end of Lent with Palm Sunday coming next weekend!! 

In his letter to the Philippians this evening (morning), St. Paul tells us that he counts everything else in his life as “loss” compared to “the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”  Throughout this time of Lenten fasting, our intention has been to loosen the hold material things like food, drink and possessions have over us so that we are able to focus on what gives our life direction and purpose, our relationship with Jesus.

We have been reading from the Gospel of Luke, Cycle C, but today we read from John.  But interestingly, this story is not in the earliest or best manuscripts of the Gospel of John.   In fact, many later manuscripts place this story in the Gospel of Luke, effectively between Luke 21:38 and 22:1, or after the last chapter of the gospel.  And other manuscripts have this story not in John 8 (where we find it in the canon) but following John 7:36.  Of course, none of this detracts from the story being canonical and inspired Scripture.  But it’s good to keep in mind the varied history and manuscript difficulties with the story.

Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives and then early in the morning he goes to the temple..   The Mount of Olives calls to mind the symbol of oil and of the mercy which Christ shows there.   The phrase “early in the morning” reminds us of verses 22 & 23 from chapter 3 of Lamentations that says, “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent; They are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness”.

People come and gather around Jesus and he teaches them until they are interrupted by the scribes and the Pharisees who bring a woman before him who had been caught in adultery and they make her stand in the middle probably partially clothed.  They do not bring the man; did he run off?  They point out that Moses commanded that such women should be stoned and they waited for Jesus to answer the trap they had prepared for him.  Jesus began to write on the ground with his finger and takes the focus from the woman to himself.  I wonder what he wrote?   Saint Augustine wrote “Jesus seems to have delineated something that put the scribes to shame, or exposed their sins.”  Saint Jerome suggested that “Jesus wrote all the mortal sins of those who accused her.”   Maybe you have another idea of what Jesus was writing.

When Jesus did not answer them the scribes and Pharisees continued their questioning of Jesus and he stands up and says “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”.  The only ones who could do this were his Mother, Mary; Jesus, himself; and any children who had not reached the age of reason.   As Jesus continued writing in the dirt the people began to leave beginning with the oldest as they called to mind their own sinfulness.   Jesus did not need to stare them down to make sure they did not pick up a rock to throw.   They left on their own until Jesus was alone with the accused woman and he stands up to ask the woman where her accusers are and has anyone condemned her.   When she says no one has condemned her Jesus says “Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” Jesus does not ignore sin; he forgives it.   Jesus knows sin’s control and its destructive force on holiness and perseverance.  Forgiveness brings grace, which fills in the needed strength.  Jesus forgives rather than punishes.  Forgiveness opens the way for the forgiven to use their gifts to build Jesus’ kingdom.  Jesus saves her life not because he accepts her behavior, but because he wants to give her the chance to change.

Whether the accused woman was seeking affection or pleasure, or desperately selling her body for the sake of survival, her behavior was not designed to bring her satisfaction; she was involved in a fruitless quest.  Like mansions built on sand, relationships that preclude commitment too often wound or maim the people involved as they fall apart.  Deep down, she probably already knew that.  All Jesus needed to offer her was mercy.  It was as if he told her:  “Go, create something new.”  Her silence suggests that she accepted Jesus’ command to change her life.

In reality, the woman was easier to save than the crowd.  They disappeared right after Jesus suffocated the flame of their fury with the wet blanket of honesty.  But did they recognize the misery that had made them merciless?  Did they learn that their readiness to condemn the sinner was rooted in their own insecurity?   Did they get any hint that genuine religion encourages people to ask for and rejoice in forgiveness rather than pretending or even attempting perfection?

Today, we suffer from many scandals that can rile us up into self-righteous rage.  Following the example of Pope Francis, our first question in these situations should be, “Who am I to judge?”  The next and equally vital question is, “Who is suffering in this situation and what are we called to do about it?”

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