|The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Psalms 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
To the people of Israel, the past deeds of God were their religious and national identity. The past was their history of being special and saved through the Exodus. For the God of Israel, the future is more important. It is almost as if God, through the words of Isaiah in today’s First Reading, is saying, “You ain't seen nothing yet!”
The past events of God’s love for Israel are recalled ever so briefly, because there is a “new” thing that's going to happen. The reading comes from Isaiah's Book of Consolation which comprises chapters forty through fifty-five. God seems to be boasting of all the deeds in the past as some kind of prologue to the coming events of fertility and safety leading to a greater confidence and be, “the people whom I have formed for myself, that they might announce my praise.” For God then, the future is always more important than the past. The past becomes the foundation upon which new memories and new revelations can stand.
A group of scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman, and they make her confession for her. She has been caught in the very act of adultery. It goes without saying that they did not bring along her partner who also was in the very same act. She stands accused, literally, “dead to rights.” The Hebrew scriptures hold her bound to be stoned and Jesus is forced to stand as judge of this mock trial.
Israel herself has been found to be in adulterous relationships with the foreign gods. The prophet Hosea speaks of her marital infidelities, but also speaks of God’s faithful response to her shameful past. So is Jesus doing a “new” thing or revealing Himself to be a revelation of the Ancient One? He does do some reverse finger pointing here. While her accusers point their fingers at her and indirectly at Jesus, He points His finger into the dirt and traces something secretly in the dust. He then asks the group of accusers to start throwing stones, beginning with the ones who are without sin themselves. The accusers become the excusers and when she looks up, there stands only Jesus. Instead of sending her to death, Jesus sends her to life.
There is no doubt that there has been a commission of a sin here. There is no doubt that there has also been a remission here as well. There is no doubt that there has also been given a mission here. Commission, remission, and mission; the three steps which form this scriptural sacramental encounter between Jesus and our fallen sister, who each of us is. The important event for Jesus and this woman is not her forced arrival, but her freely being sent, missioned to live her “new” thing.
When hearing confession, most priests are aware that those making their confession are quite attentive to their pasts for which they are celebrating this wonderful sacrament. The Church, in the presence of the priest, is more interested in the “new,” the future and the mission to which Jesus sends us all. Commission of sins, yes, that is there. Remission, yes, for sure, that is there! But the sending, the “get out of here and live the new” that is where Jesus faces.
I am often aware that the people confessing cannot wait until they can get out of there. I am more aware of how much more I want them to get out of there, too, but perhaps for slightly different reasons.
Perhaps the mission, to which we are sent to live by Jesus’ forgiving us, is our baptismal innocence. This freedom is nourished by the Eucharist and so the mission leads us to live the Real Presence in our own lives. Jesus offers us, “as an ever-lasting gift to the Father,” but by our commission of sins, we take that gift back and give it to ourselves. The mission of the sacramental encounter with Jesus as “Remitter” reverses the direction of ourselves as gifts. If the Eucharist is a “thank You” to God in Christ, our sin is our saying “no thank You” and the forgiveness of Jesus puts us back on the Eucharistic track of living the mission of gratitude. Our personal lives then, is the “something new” and the way we become the “people whom I formed for Myself…” We are the “something new.”
“It is not that I have already taken hold of it, or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may posses it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.”
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