Lent 5, 3 April 22
The character of Lent begins a change today on the Sunday that begins what is sometimes called Greater Passiontide as we see crosses and statues veiled so we might the greater concentrate on Our Lord`s Passion, for it is by His Passion that He has wiped out our past sinfulness
For over four weeks we have been trying to walk the way of repentance, devotion, self-denial and perhaps a greater care for our neighbours – in the widest sense of the word neighbour. There has certainly been enough in the way of tragic world events to move us to compassion and generosity but we get a wonderful glimpse of the compassion, love and mercy of God in the story we have just heard from St. John`s Gospel chapter 8 verses 1 -11
We find Jesus teaching in the Temple. He and the disciples had been up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths and he had gone up to the Mount of Olives it would seem to pray and then had gone to the Temple in the morning. Clearly He was already popular among the people, even though he had come from Galilee for the Feast, and the people gathered to him and he sat down and began to teach them. Try to set the scene in your mind`s eye. Hardly had Jesus begun to teach them then scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had actually been caught in the act of adultery the punishment for which, according to the Law of Moses, was that she should be stoned to death. They draw his attention to the woman and declare what Moses had said was the appropriate punishment and then, once again, as so often before they try to catch out Jesus by asking him what He had to say about the situation. For a while he said nothing but bent down and wrote with nis finger on the ground. They persisted in questioning Him until, he straightened up from writing on the ground and then said to the scribes and Pharisees and others around him, `Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.` We are told by St. John that Jesus bent down once again and continued to write on the ground. Hearing His comment we are told that they went away one by one beginning with the most senior among them! After a short while Jesus was left alone with the woman when He straightened up once more and then addressed the woman, who must have been fearing for her life, with these words, “Woman, where are they ? Has no one condemned you ? to which she replied, “No one, sir.” Jesus then said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
We get such a wonderful picture of the Mercy of God shown in the person of Jesus showing how God in Jesus loves the sinner but does NOT love the sin. For having said that He does not condemn the adulterous woman yet he tells her to go on her way and “from now on sin no more.” There is shown the love and compassion of Jesus but also that He in turn expects a response – after all he had saved her life in this world that she might have the fulness of Life in the world to come!
There is something about the story which makes many of us ask what Jesus was writing on the ground for only the woman who was caught in the act of adultery was brought forward. The Law in Leviticus 20, verse 10, says “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbour, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” and Deuteronomy 22, verses 22-24, tells us “If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death.”
Jesus knows us all to be sinful and part of penitence and the forgiveness that comes as a result is that facing the sin in ourselves. Seeing the hypocrisy of the accusers perhaps Jesus first writing might have been pointing a finger at the self-righteousness of the accusers. The second piece of writing in the earth might have been these words from the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 17 verse 13: “O Hope of Israel! O Lord! All who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be recorded in the underworld, for they have forsaken the fountain of living water, the Lord.” Remember that Our Lord would know both the Law and the Prophets better than any of the scribes and Pharisees.
Our first reading from Isaiah 43 reflects briefly on the saving work of God as he caused Moses the lead the Hebrews out of Egypt to the promised land vanquishing Pharoah and all his army, but then says Isaiah that there is no need to hark back to the past but that God continually performs great deeds and points to the coming of the Messiah. St. Paul in that wonderful passage from his letter to the Philippians chapter 3 shows the depth of his relationship to Jesus: ”…..and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him. I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, the perfection that comes from the Law, but I want only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ, and is from God and based on faith……….I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God call us upwards to receive in Jesus Christ.”
Perhaps the great lesson of today`s Gospel story and the supporting passages of scripture is that we might seek to have lives of humility so that we can examine ourselves carefully and bring ourselves as we find ourselves and as we are in prayer before our Saviour and Heavenly Father bringing before the Father, through Jesus in prayer an emptying our of sinfulness. Perhaps the best way to do this is in this week, before we approach Holy Week, to find a time of proper self-examination and making a personal confession to God before a priest that we may fully experience the grace of God`s loving forgiveness, affirmation and encouragement – and resolve to leave the judgement of others to God`s generosity and not to be tempted to judge others ourselves.
Some words to end this sermon from the Prophet Joel chapter 2, verses 12 and 13: “Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks – come back to me with all your heart, for I am all tenderness and compassion.”