Sunday, April 7, 2019

Year C Fifith Sunday of Lent

Readings: Isa 43:16-21; Ps 126:1-6; Phil 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

Our first reading from Isaiah bids us not to dwell on things that are past, to obsess over what happened long ago. Rather, we are encouraged to look and see that God is at work “doing something new!”1 It’s easy on a Spring morning to believe that God is at work as we hear birds singing, see and smell the trees and flowers coming back to life, and see the grass becoming green.

More than half-way through Lent, it is important to be reminded that “Lent” is an old English word that means “springtime.” During Lent, the church invites us to open ourselves in an intentional way to the new thing God is doing in each of our lives and in our life together.

God’s work is bringing joy from sorrow and wholeness from brokenness. Above all, God brings life from death. A few weeks ago, our Gospel reading from Luke was about Jesus’s Transfiguration. This preview of the resurrection was witnessed by Peter, James, and John. On Luke’s telling, it is clear that these disciples were confused by what they saw and heard. What they heard was Jesus discussing with Moses and Elijah the “exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.”2 The text makes clear that Peter’s suggestion of building three tents was the result of not knowing what else to say.3

Making sense of a mystery is difficult. If the Lord’s Transfiguration is a mystery, then how much more mysterious is his resurrection? It’s easy to say that Jesus died and three days later he rose from the dead. In fact, believing this is the most fundamental profession Christians make. While it’s important to believe that because of Jesus’s resurrection we, too, will rise from the dead, what does Christ’s resurrection mean in the here and now? How do we experience this new thing God is doing?

A number of years ago, a friend of mine, who is not Catholic, was going through a divorce. In the midst of this, her soon-to-be ex-husband took his own life. Understandably, this was devastating for her. Knowing my beliefs, she asked if I really believe in life after death and in the resurrection and, if I did, how I could be sure? In other words, she wanted to know if my belief in the resurrection is wishful thinking or if it is rooted in something more solid. I responded by telling her I in believe the resurrection of the dead because it is something I have experienced for myself.

How does one experience resurrection? First, in baptism you died, were buried, and rose with Christ to new life.4 What baptism demonstrates is that eternal life starts the moment you are reborn of water and spirit. I was baptized as a young adult and so I remember my baptism. It remains one of the two or three profound moments of my life. But whether you remember your baptism or not, if you were baptized, you were reborn to eternal life. How else is resurrection experienced? This is where our Gospel reading today comes to our assistance.

Like the story of the Prodigal Son, which we heard last week, the story of the woman taken in adultery is a Bible story that, even now, almost everyone knows. It shows us, as did the Parable of the Prodigal Son, that God deals with sin and evil by extending mercy and not by punishing. So, like last week’s Gospel, this week’s contains a revelation about the nature of God.

While the story of the woman caught in adultery raises some questions, like where is her partner in crime, the fact remains that she was caught doing something for which the Law of Moses required her to be stoned to death. It is essential to the story to recognize that she is guilty. After no doubt being publicly shamed and humiliated, she is brought to Jesus. The leaders of the mob remind him what the Mosaic law demanded- that she be put to death for her sin. Testing him they ask Jesus, “So what do you say?”5

Recognizing that the mob was trying to trap him so they could bring a charge against him, he did not answer their question immediately. Rather, he bent down and wrote in the dust with his finger. As he wrote, the mob continued pestering him for an answer.

Finally, Jesus stood up and said the words that most people still know by heart: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”6 After saying these words, the Lord bent back down and resumed writing in the dust. As he did so, one by one the mob dropped their stones and walked away.

The point of the story is clear: Jesus’s intervention brought this woman back to life from certain death. After saving her, the Lord invited her to live a new life, one no longer tainted by sin, shame, and guilt; a life not lived in the valley of the shadow of death. By refusing to condemn her, Jesus did a new thing for her, a surprising thing. Speculating, perhaps what Jesus wrote in the dust was “Choose life.”

On Ash Wednesday you were urged to remember that you are dust to dust you will return. Like the woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus seeks to raise you from the dust to life eternal.

Getting back to how you experience Christ’s resurrection in the here and now beyond your baptism, you have this experience each time you receive God’s forgiveness. Being an extension of the sacrament of baptism, upon making a good confession and completing your penance, it is through the sacrament of penance that God, in his mercy, restores you to the state of grace. Making your Act of Contrition, you promise to go your way and sin no more. In other words, you say “Yes!” to Christ’s invitation to eternal life.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus provides us with a concrete example of what St. Paul writes about in our second reading: not having any righteousness of your own based on the law. It was precisely on this point that Jesus challenged the would-be stone-throwers, all of whom apparently realized that they, too, were guilty of serious transgressions against God’s law.

In Hebrew, “Satan” means “accuser” or “adversary.” Scripture tells us that the devil accuses us “before our God day and night.”7 What the devil accuses you of before God are not false charges. He accuses you of your sins, imploring God to give you your just desserts. Your righteousness, as Paul points out, comes “through faith in Christ,” who is himself the righteousness of God and the mercy of God.8 And so, even as Catholics, we can say that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

The sacraments are the primary and surest means for receiving the grace that saves you. It is faith that causes you to hunger and thirst for God's grace. Faith prompts you to get up and come to Mass on Sunday morning. Faith prompts you to go confession. It is faith, which is a gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, that urges you to say, “Jesus, I trust in You.”

1 Isaiah 43:19.
2 Luke 9:31.
3 Luke 9:33.
4 Romans 6:4-5.
5 John 8:5.
6 John 8:7.
7 Revelation 12:10.
8 Philippians 3:9.

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