Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent Year C
Theme: ANOTHER ENEMY OF FREEDOM
By: Fr Andrew Ekpenyong at St Mary Magdalene Cath. Church, Omaha, USA.
Homily for Sunday April 3 2022
1. Threats to Freedom. Before ideological, economic and political turmoil brought about the end of USSR in 1991, many soviet citizens used whisper jokes, for obvious reasons, to criticise communist infringements on human freedom. Here is one of such whisper jokes. “What is the difference between the constitutions of the USA and USSR? Both guarantee freedom of speech.” Answer: “Yes, but the constitution of the USA also guarantees freedom after the speech.” Sisters and brothers, as we continue to fast and pray for peace in Ukraine, as we take up more works of justice and charity to support oppressed peoples everywhere, those whose freedoms are denied by external forces, today’s Scripture readings present us with the means of overcoming another major enemy of human freedom, namely, our own bad choices, our personal sins.
2. Our Personal Sins. In today’s Gospel reading (Jn 8:1-11), both the man and the woman caught in adultery made bad choices. Where was the man? According to Mosiac precepts, both parties to adultery were to be put to death: “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” (Lev 20:10). “If a man is discovered lying with a woman who is married to another, they both shall die, the man who was lying with the woman as well as the woman. Thus shall you purge the evil from Israel.” (Deut 22:22) The Scribes and Pharisees were in this case not concerned with the intention of the law, namely, purging evil from the society. They wanted to have evidence against Jesus as the reading pointed out: “They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him”. Their plot was classic. They impaled Christ on the horns of a dilemma. If Jesus said she should be put to death, then He would violate Roman law since the Jews did not have the right of capital punishment (precisely why Pilate had to agree to Jesus’ crucifixion). If He said she should not be put to death, that would violate the law of Moses. They were convinced He would have no way out. But they were dealing with Jesus. Our Lord bent down and scribbled on the ground. They insisted He should speak up. He did. Those who set the trap were trapped. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. Yes, we are all guilty of personals sins. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
3. Christ is our Freedom. Perhaps borrowing from St Augustine, the Irish poet Oscar Wilde echoed Scripture when he wrote: “Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future”. Remarkably, this statement is from the play: A Woman of No Importance. The “unfortunate” woman who was caught became fortunate as she received forgiveness and lifesaving counsel from Christ: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more”. Christ not only freed her from the death penalty but also gave her the key to future freedom: victory over sin. She got a future, a bright one. She became a woman of great importance, demonstrating that God’s grace is abundantly available to all. The self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees had their hypocrisy exposed and they left defeated and deflated. Just because we are not guilty of serious sins of the flesh or appetites (lust, gluttony, avarice) does not mean we are innocent of sins of the mind such as envy and pride. Every saint has a past, typically a sinful past. We are all repentant sinners with a future, a happy future if our repentance endures. And to make our repentance endure, God offers us grace anew, as we are reminded in the 1st reading (Is 43:16-21): see, I am doing something new…I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland. Yes, God’s grace is watering our arid hearts even at this Mass, making us strive forward to what lies ahead, like St Paul in today’s 2nd reading (Phil 3:8-14). What lies ahead? What else but the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling in Christ Jesus, when we will fully share in Christ’s victory over the worst enemies of our freedom, victory over sin and death. Amen.