15-17, 19-30, 33-62 or 13:41-62
Psalm 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
A few years ago I went to the Philippines to do Tertianship, a year of Jesuit training (http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/tertianship/). One of my assignments was to work in a parish in the northern mountains of Luzon. While there the parishioners arranged a visit to a local prison. They brought food, composed a play, and also practiced some songs to sing for the prisoners. They asked me to come along and hear confessions and celebrate the liturgy.
The head of the prison brought me to the dormitory to hear the confessions. There on the dormitory wall was a list of the prisonersí names and their crimes written in English. Each one had committed murder. The list included the person(s) each had murdered. It was under this sign that I sat with a purple stole, a sign of repentance and forgiveness, to hear their confessions.
Todayís gospel is about being caught. The woman was caught in the act of adultery and was in the custody of the Scribes and Pharisees. At the same time, the woman herself is caught up in sinfulness. The people who have caught the woman are caught too, caught in their inability to forgive or to have compassion. The whole group is also caught in a cultural system that is based in vengeance and also a system that punishes only one party in an act that takes two people. In the Philippines I was caught up in a large group of men who had been caught in most terrible acts and who were then also caught in a judicial system.
The opposite of catch is liberate, set free. It is clear from the Gospel, from the Hebrew prophets, from the very history of Israel that God is about liberation, about setting captives free, about setting us free. Yet in the Gospel the people do not seek liberation but rather vengeance and destruction. They are out to kill this woman (thatís what stoning is) to avenge her crime. There is no chance for liberation here. There is no opportunity for repentance.
Jesus asks the crowd and asks us to put ourselves in the place of that woman. Are we without sin? If we had committed that sin would we want a cruel death to be our fate? Have we never committed sin? Even if we have never committed that sin, are we without sin? When we are caught or caught up in sin, how would we prefer to be treated?
The United States is sometimes said to be un-Christian because it is materialistic. I think our problem is deeper than that. We have lost the ability to forgive, to reconcile, and to seek forgiveness. The Church today has been facing many of her own sins, historical and contemporary. We have had to look at the hard reality of anti-semitism, racism, cultural insensitivity, and sexual abuse. In this we have had to ask for forgiveness. In this we have also learned to be more forgiving. In this we have resolved more than ever to ask God to liberate us from our sinfulness and to work for our own liberation to remove the shackles of sin.
When I sat in that prison to hear confessions and to share a meal with the prisoners and parishioners I was overtaken by the seriousness of what I saw on that wall. I was also overtaken by the power of Godís forgiveness that I would be permitted and encouraged by prison officials, the prisoners themselves and by the Church to come there to forgive and reconcile in the name of Christ and the Christian community.
Jesus again asks the impossible, to forgive rather than to destroy.
He does not ask this in some theoretical sense but in the reality of life.
Jesus does not say the woman was accused falsely. He simply says
to forgive. He liberates her. He also asks the woman to liberate
herself, to free herself of that sin. He does the same for the crowd,
for he liberates them too by asking them to forgive rather than to condemn
and kill. He does the same for us now. He asks us to seek liberation
from our own sinfulness. He asks us to put down our stones and take
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