Monday, March 18, 2013

Something New

Readings for Sunday, March 17/ 5th Sunday of Lent:
Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126:1-6
Philippians 3:8-14
John 8:1-11

Today the Lord says to us the Scriptures, “I am doing something new.” Indeed He is doing something new and He is inviting us to take part in it, and to in fact be the main focus of that newness. “Remember not the events of the past,” He says, “the things of long ago consider not…. I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink.” Our Lord comes to invite us to drink of the water He has provided for us, but not a simple water as we can find all around us but rather the water of His Divine Mercy. Our Lord Jesus longs for us to drink deeply of that Mercy and to find true life. And as we cannot have life without the sustenance of literal water, so too are we unable to have real life without Mercy.

St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians gives us a brief testimony of that life, as he had begun to embody the calling of God to set aside the things of the past and look forward to the future, where there is life and fullness of grace. In the Gospel we see that touching account of what the encounter looks life.

As we draw near to Passion Sunday, or Palm Sunday, next weekend, we hear in the Scriptures more about the scribes and Pharisees trying to catch Jesus in a trap to bring Him to His death. Today we hear yet another attempt and another supposedly perfect trap. They bring before the Lord a woman caught in adultery. A woman. So often in the Scriptures we hear names of people for specific events – Peter, Lazarus, Mary, etc. – but here it is simply ‘a woman’, a generic title that permits us all to place ourselves in the passage. It is no longer just a story about a person two thousand years ago; it is my story and yours. We are the woman.

The scribes and Pharisees, thirsty for the Blood of Christ to be shed, bring the woman in and set her in the midst of all the people, then frame the question to Jesus whether she should be stoned according to the Law or let free. To set her free was to break the Jewish Law and lose all credibility as a teacher. To have her stoned according to the Law was to break the Roman law and merit death. The trap has now been set and this poor woman has been used as a tool to get at Christ. They weren’t really concerned with her. But Christ was, and in escaping the trap, turns to make her the center of attention so that she might come to know His love for her.

When they first question the Lord, he simply bends down and begins to draw in the dirt. Hoping to spring the trap soon, they continue to press on Him to answer. So he stands to respond: Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And one by one, beginning with the elders they leave. The little detail included by St. John – that the elders left first – shows us the wisdom of the elders in that they knew they could not feign innocence, but were indeed sinners. And while some might have thought themselves sinless, they surely couldn’t say so since those more righteous than they had walked away. With the words of Jesus, the accusers became the accused and rather than the woman being on trial, they each found themselves on trial. They had become the woman in the center and walked away in shame.

Still the Lord draws quietly in the dirt, until they have all left. He waits patiently because He knows what is soon to take place in the heart of this woman standing before Him and wants to draw her into that personal relationship with Him and the Father. He rises and looks around to find that He is alone and simply inquires, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” With this the woman could have responded “Why? What have I done wrong?” or “Why condemn just me? Why not the man I was with?” or “Why does it matter? It’s not that serious an act.” So often these are the things that happen within our hearts when we are faced with our sinfulness. We get defensive and look everywhere but the loving eyes of Jesus. But she didn’t. She simply responds, “No one” and in those words she admits her guilt. She knows that she had sinned greatly and deserved death according to the Mosaic Law. And the Lord looks lovingly at her and says simply, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” Just as she recognized her sin, Jesus also did. He knew the cost that he would soon have to pay to forgive her sins. I suspect that as He was there quietly drawing in the dirt that this thought was consuming His thoughts and the knowledge of her sin was already at that moment causing pain in His priestly and paternal heart. For that reason, when He responds, He doesn’t say “It’s not a big deal” or “You’re free to go and continue to live as you wish.” Quite the opposite, He forgives her sin but then challenges her to live in the future what she should have done in the past. As she goes away, she does so with freedom and life, having been sustained by the outpouring of the Divine Mercy of Jesus.

As I spoke about the value of this anonymous woman helping us to enter into the Gospel, the reality is much deeper than that. Rather than just a reflection on this encounter, Jesus Christ has given us the opportunity through the Church to have this exact same encounter in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession. When we step into a confessional, we see the priest before us, but the invisible reality we cannot see is that it is actually Jesus working through that priest to enable this encounter with Divine Mercy. It is Jesus there before us Who forgives our sins, and sends us away free and full of life once more. “Neither do I condemn you” becomes “I absolve you from your sins…” and we are sent away in peace, filled with God’s grace to help us to sin no more.

My brothers and sisters in the Lord, Jesus wants to do something new in our hearts. He wants to come to us in that personal encounter like the woman in the Gospel that we might be freed from our sins and given the Mercy of God that gives true life. Whether it’s been a week, a month, a year, ten years, or more, the Lord is inviting you again today to drink of His Mercy. Whatever fear might be in your heart, cast it out. If you think it’s been too long, if you think your sins are too big, if you’ve had a bad experience in the past, whatever might be keeping you from having that encounter with Jesus, cast it out and come to experience the joy that Christ seeks to bestow upon you. Let us not be afraid, but rather draw closer to Jesus. Let us drink deeply of His Mercy and allow Him to say in our hearts today “I am doing something new.”