YEAR C: HOMILY FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF LENT
HOMILY THEME: NEW BEGINNING
BY: Fr. Gerald Musa
HOMILY: As human beings, we easily get bored with old things and it is in our nature to crave and search for something new – new dress, new car, new environment, new order, new opportunity, new concept, new era, new edition, new techniques, new plans, new theories and new methods. Something new could mean something more recent, an innovation, something unprecedented and something different from that which is old, or a dramatic departure from the past.
The word new is a familiar theme in the Scriptures, particularly in the book of Isaiah where God says, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! (Isaiah 43:19) and where He declares, “I will give you a new name” (62:2) and “I will make new heavens and new earth” (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). It is in an effort to create a new world that God invites his people to his throne of mercy saying: “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). This passage clearly shows how God is determined to renew people through the power of His mercy. The book of Lamentation reveals something special about God’s mercy and that is the fact that his mercy is new every morning (Lamentation 3:23). It is his mercy that brings about a “New heart and a heart spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31 & 36:26).
The story of the woman caught in adultery demonstrates the nature of God’s mercy. Jewish religion vehemently kicks against adultery and this is clearly spelt out in the Sixth Commandment, which says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:12). A severe punishment awaits those caught in the act: “And the man that commits adultery with another man’s wife, even he that commits adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 20:20).
In the early hours of the morning when Jesus came into the temple, the Scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” (John 8:2-5).
At first, Jesus did not say anything to the lynch mob that brought the woman to him. He was silent and slow to judge the nameless woman. In his silence, he stooped down to write with his finger on the ground. Curiously, some commentators have offered different interpretations of what Jesus wrote on the ground. Some think he was writing the past sins of each of the woman’s accusers; others think he was writing the secret sins they were about to commit. When the Scribes and Pharisees persisted with their question on what to do with the woman, Jesus said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Having said this, he stooped down again to write. Surprisingly, no one was bold enough or so sinless to throw any stone at her and they went away one by one, beginning from the eldest. They suddenly discovered the weight of their guilt. They condemned her for adultery, but they were blinded by the sin of self-righteousness and pride.
There is no doubt the woman had committed a grievous sin and had fallen from the state of grace. She needed to rise up, she needed to turn away from her sins. We can identify with her in our own sinfulness. Talking about the sinful nature of the human person, the Apostle Paul bluntly asserts, “Everyone has sinned and has fallen short of the Grace” (Romans 3:23) and St. John the evangelist advises us saying, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:18). The accusers of the adulterous woman were deeply convinced they were morally better than the woman. They were not aware of the wise counsel, which says, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). They forgot that we are all dancing on the brink, the precipice and the edge where anyone can fall at anytime within the split of a second.
The accusers of the woman came to Jesus eager to be given the go-ahead to do with her what the Law of Moses prescribes for those caught in adultery. The Mosaic Law prescribes death by stoning for those who have committed adultery; normally, the law of jungle justice would always condemn the sin and destroy the sinner. There is a natural instinct in us that seeks to disgrace, humiliate and shame the sinner. This approach in many cases has proved to be counter-productive, because the harder we pounce on a sinner, the more hardened the sinner becomes.
The scriptural passages selected for this 5th Sunday of the Lenten season have one central message. The passages teach us to adopt a new approach and a compassionate attitude toward sinners. This approach teaches us to condemn the sin and love the sinner. In addition, St. Paul admonishes us, to cast our dark past behind and embrace a new and positive lifestyle. He says, “I forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). People often want to judge us by our past and we are duty bound to give them a gentle reminder with these famous lines: “Don’t judge me by my past, I do not live there anymore.” Jesus said to the sinful woman, “Go and sin no more.” These words of Jesus to the woman are words of encouragement. Jesus encourages us, like the woman, to rise up and walk in newness of life. You and I are called to do the same and to encourage others do the same: to save and not to condemn.
5th Sunday of Lent; Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11
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