YEAR C: HOMILY/REFLECTION FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF LENT
TOPIC: GOD’S MERCY AND FORGIVENESS
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Message # 261: “Open Wide the Gates to Christ”
- The Marian Message
a) The Blessed Mother’s message is on the Solemnity of the Annunciation – the precise moment when the Eternal Word was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the true beginning of our Redemption (March 25 is exactly nine months before December 25, the birth of Jesus). This celebration is a solemnity, and it therefore supersedes the liturgical norms of the Lenten season – the vestments are white, with the singing of Gloria (but no Alleluia). This year, however, this feast cannot be celebrated because March 25 falls on Monday of the Holy Week.
b) This is the feast of the Lord – hence the official title “Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.” The Blessed Mother made it clear in her message (letters b, c and d). It is the first moment of the Incarnation: “In my virginal womb, the eternal Word of the Father assumed his human nature, permitting him to become a man like you, your true Brother.”
c) It is also the feast of the Blessed Mother: “The feast of the Son is also that of the Mother who gave Him life, preserving forever the ineffable charm of perpetual virginity” (letters e- f). It must be made clear, however, that Mary is not the source of the life of the Eternal Word – that would be preposterous! Rather, Mary’s virginal body is the instrument used by God so that the Eternal Word can have a human body – in a sense, we can say that Mary is the source of the human nature of the Divine Son.
d) Finally, it is also our feast day (letter i). The Incarnation of Jesus – God becoming man just like us – opens up the “real and practical possibility that each of (us) might become true sons of God, brothers of Jesus, recipients of the great gift of his Redemption” (letter j). In addition, becoming brothers of Jesus, Mary also becomes our “true Mother in the supernatural order, Mother of (our) divine life” (letter k).
e) Being the Mother of all humanity, Mary sends out her urgent call to all her children. It is, first of all, a call to repentance and conversion: “Return to the God of your salvation and of your peace!” (letter q). She addresses this call to her children who are straying, seduced by atheism and who continually and obstinately reject God; and to her children who are sinners, seduced by evil, by hatred and violence (letter q and r).
f) It is also a call to “the children of the Church, today living the hour of its agony and redemptive passion” so that they may always “walk the road of love and unity, of fidelity and holiness, of prayer and penance” (letter s).
g) Finally, it is a call “to all of humanity” facing such mortal dangers: “Open wide the gates to Christ who is coming” so that “there will come upon you the new era of justice and peace” and the triumph of her Immaculate Heart (letters t and u).
- The Sunday Readings
a) The first two readings serve as appropriate introduction to the Gospel where God’s boundless love and mercy are made manifest in Jesus Christ. In the first reading, the Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, declares: “Remember not the events of the past; see, I am doing something new!” He talks about giving His people abundant supply of water to drink: “I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink.” Water is an essential element for life and survival. The image of water, then, refers to life. If we read this in the context of the Gospel events, we will see that water is about the life that God gives us through Jesus Christ (refer to the teachings of Jesus on Baptism and the crucifixion and death of Jesus where water and blood gushed forth from his side).
b) The Responsorial Psalm is a joyful invitation to praise God in joy for “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” It is always important to look back and count our blessings. Then we will always be filled with joy even in the midst of troubles and sufferings.
c) The second reading is St. Paul’s personal testimony about his relationship with the Lord: “I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Having known Jesus personally, he now realized that all things are “so much rubbish”, and he eagerly longs to attain perfect unity with Jesus, “straining forward to what lies ahead, I consider my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” This must have been the overwhelming feeling of the woman caught in the act of adultery when she received from Jesus forgiveness and new life, instead of judgment and condemnation. Knowing and experiencing the mercy and love of God, we realize that everything in this world is “rubbish”, worthless – only God truly matters! This realization is the fullness of wisdom!
- The Sunday Gospel
a) The Gospel readings of the last two Sundays tell us about the desire of God to bring people to conversion and salvation. The urgent call to repentance in Lk 13:1-9 and the parable of the Prodigal Son in Lk 15:11-32 clearly illustrate this. God’s love is so overpowering that He does not judge, and instead is always eager to forgive and offer the sinner all the chances for repentance and conversion. In the subsequent verse after the Gospel account this Sunday, Jesus said: “You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone” (Jn 8:15).
b) If we read the entire Gospel of John, we may notice that this story about the adulterous woman disturbs the sequence of the narrative. It is because this passage did not form part of the original gospel according to John. Biblical scholars are one in saying that this is one of the great many stories about Jesus that circulated in the first few centuries of the Christian era that were preserved but without being incorporated into any gospel. In style, it must have been written by Luke. Even if it is impossible to find an original place for it in any of the four gospels, it is consistent with the authentic stories about Jesus, and hence considered part of the definitive canon of Scriptures.
c) “Then the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery.” This sin is very serious. It is a sin against chastity, and also a sin against justice (injustice to her husband and children, as well as injustice to the wife and family of the partner). Among the Chosen People, when a woman was found by her husband to have committed adultery, the immediate result would be that the husband was entitled to divorce her without any financial loss, and the woman and her family would bear the disgrace of the act. Where there was doubt as to the infidelity, further evidence might be needed or the woman might be subjected to a ritual test (cf. Num 5).
d) “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.” We always say, “It takes two to tango.” The woman cannot commit adultery without a partner. Why penalize only the woman, while the partner goes scot-free? This is against the Law of Moses, which penalizes both the man and the woman (Dt. 22 and Lev 20). This was one issue in the system of the highly male-dominated society like Israel that Jesus wanted to correct.
e) “They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him.” The scribes and Pharisees were viciously cunning. They were not really after the prosecution of the woman. Given the social condition of the time where Palestine was under the Roman occupation, this particular punishment must not have been carried out by the Jewish authorities for a long period of time. In other words, the Jewish leaders simply used the woman as bait in order to trap Jesus. Either way, Jesus has no way out. If he assents to the sentence of stoning the woman, he will be accused of being merciless and inconsistent with his teachings on love and forgiveness. But if he lets go of the woman, he will also be accused of not taking the Mosaic Law seriously and thereby lose credibility with the people.
f) “Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.” What did he write? Nobody knows and the Gospels did not offer any hint. Some prolific minds guessed that, judging from the reaction of the crowd, he must have written on the ground the sins of those accusers to remind them of their own sins. Anyway, the important thing is that Jesus’ reaction was totally uncharacteristic of him. Whereas on many occasions, he would have a quick answer or action as in rebuking the evil spirits, healing a sick person or refuting his detractors, in this case he took time – he kept quiet and wrote on the ground. This caught the accusers off- balanced – their burning hatred and thirst for blood were doused by the cold silence and calm of Jesus in the face of such intense pressure.
g) “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” This statement of Jesus is double edged. First, it confronts the accusers of their own sinfulness. The eyes of Jesus must have pierced through their souls that made their hearts melt in shame and humiliation. Second, there is a serious legal implication to this. The classic example of this is the case of Susanna in the Book of Daniel (ch 13). Accusing a woman of adultery is a very serious case, and it should be presented by two independent witnesses of indisputable probity and irrefutable testimonies and evidence. Since the life of the accused is at stake, there are conditions that the witnesses must fulfill before their word could be accepted. First, their evidence of the act of adultery must be first-hand (they must have proof that they had witnessed the act personally); and second, they had to show that they had not been implicated in any way with the crime they alleged or with any other unlawful proceeding. If such conditions are not met, and still the evidence is given by the witnesses and received by the judges, both witnesses and judges will be implicated in the grave sin of bearing false witness, and they will receive the punishment meant for the accused (cf. Dt. 19:19). This statement of Jesus was clearly a challenge to the accusers – both the witnesses and those who were ready to accept their testimony. They have to prove their integrity and the veracity of the evidence. But they were not very sure of their status – for, indeed, nobody is worthy to judge anyone.
h) Jesus, though sinless, did not condemn the woman: “neither do I condemn you.” He was not saying that it is alright to commit adultery – it remains a grave sin. That is why Jesus said very strongly: “from now on, do not sin anymore.” The action of Jesus was clearly an act of mercy and forgiveness. He knows full well how it is to be in such a terrible situation of being caught in sin and condemned. He gives us a timeless principle: Hate the sin; love the sinner. The Church calendar is full of great saints who were formerly great sinners. They became great saints because of God’s great mercy for them.
- Some Points for Reflection
a) It is always easy to see and notice the mistakes and sins of others. We seldom see our own sins. Perhaps God is so kind to us that He allows us to see the sins of others so that we may see our own sinfulness through them. The sins that we see in others are meant not to make us proud and self-righteous but to shock and embarrass us. We should see in them our own selves – after all, we are all sinners. Genuine saints never grow proud because they see in the weakness of others their own weakness – and they are humbled by the fact that God has been so merciful to them. That is why these holy people, during their lifetime, go to confession almost every day. To grow higher in holiness, one needs to grow deeper in humility.
b) There should be a healthy balance between justice and mercy. Justice is the virtue that gives to each one his due. A sinful act is always an act of injustice – against God, against the self and against others. Something must be done to correct the injustice, and this is the reason for society’s justice system, and even the church has penal laws and the sacrament of confession. But Jesus taught and showed in his examples that mercy takes precedence over justice. That is why the Church opposes the imposition of capital punishment. Pope St. John Paul II said: “Justice without mercy is the greatest injustice of all.” To illustrate: Strict justice says that taking one human life must be paid with the life of the accused. An injustice was done because the killer deprived the victim’s family of a father. But killing also the killer will deprive another family of a father. Justice without mercy therefore would mean adding more innocent victims to one act of injustice. This is the reason why the Church teaches that justice has always to be tempered with mercy. Capital punishment cannot be considered a just penalty – it is not just, and it is not a penalty (How can the culprit be punished when he is already dead? Instead, it relieves him from misery and penalizes his loved ones left behind.)
c) Jesus showed abundant mercy to tax collectors, prostitutes and those known as sinners. He mingled with them, and they followed him. His teachings are replete with the message of forgiveness and mercy – lost coin, lost sheep, lost son and many others – and he was even merciful to his prosecutors while dying on the cross. But on the other hand, he was stern and severe in condemning and renouncing the scribes and Pharisees who were proud and arrogant. They are the group of people considered holy and upright by the Jewish society. They were obviously serious in their observance of the law. They are the “good” people as compared to the tax collectors, prostitutes and thieves. But Jesus did not like them for their arrogance, self- righteousness and hypocrisy. For Jesus, these are sins that are far worse than all other sins. Let us examine ourselves. We are trying to be the “good” Christians. That is highly commendable. But Jesus is warning us. Our “goodness” must be genuine and pure, and we must guard ourselves from any stain of pride, arrogance and self-righteousness. Otherwise we are no different from the scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus condemned.
d) Jesus challenges us to be merciful to one another. There are concrete ways to do in order to show our mercy. There are the seven corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit those in prison, and bury the dead. There are also the seven spiritual works of mercy, namely, admonish sinners, instruct the ignorant; counsel the doubtful; comfort the sorrowful; bear wrongs patiently; forgive injuries; pray for the living and the dead. While the corporal acts of mercy help the body, the spiritual works of mercy help the soul. Let us be merciful to our brothers and sisters, not only in their bodily needs, but also in the needs of their souls.
e) “Hate sin but love the sinner.” This is the principle that Jesus is teaching. We should be able to distinguish the sinner and the sin. Definitely we have to abhor and reject all sins at all times – no compromises and justifications! But on the other hand, the sinner is a totally different case. He is a human being created by God and redeemed by the blood of Christ. All of us are sinners – we differ only in degrees. If we are not sinners, then there would be no need to send the Son of God into this world. That is why St. Augustine exclaimed: “O happy fault (sin) that merited the coming of the Savior!” Being sinners does not diminish our value in the eyes of God. All the more that God loves us because we are in need of Him. St. Paul rightly observed: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” It was precisely because we are sinners that God sent His own Son to redeem us. Therefore, let us not look down on anybody who is in sin: first, because we too are sinners, and second, because God loves the sinner in a very special way. The best example of this is sickness. A sinner is like a sick child in the family. He is still a member of the family. And because he is sick, the parents and the brothers and sisters give him special care and attention. That should be our attitude towards sinners for we all belong to only one family, one body of Christ. But there is one important consideration: although God loves the sinner, this refers only to the sinner who is sincerely and genuinely sorry for his sins. Jesus was very firm in his admonition to the adulterous woman: “Neither do I condemn you, but from now on, do not sin anymore.” That is why Jesus repeatedly condemned the scribes and Pharisees because they are not sorry for their sins and do not have any intention to repent. Unrepentant sinners will definitely go to eternal punishment.
Sing the Our Father (Ama Namin) with particular attention on “Forgive us our sins and we forgive those who sin against us.”
GUIDE QUESTIONS FOR SHARING IN THE B.E.C.
Ano ang ating naiisip kapag nakita o nalaman natin ang pagkakasala ng iba?
Bakit madaling makita ang kamalian ng iba, samantalang hindi natin nakikita at nahihirapan tayong aminin ang ating mga kamalian?
Pag-usapan ang Corporal at Spiritual Works of Mercy at kung paano ito maisasagawa.