The past meets the future in our liturgical readings today. We
can prepare for a graceful listening to God’s Word by listening to what we
say about our own pasts. We can drag our pasts around with chains of regret
and weights which can paralyze our good desires.
We are invited to let there be a savior doing a “new thing” in our lives.
We can obsess about our failures in responding to God’s love. We can pray
to marvel at God’s loving gestures to free us. We pray for simple honesty
and even more, simple freedom. Sin is not the worst thing; the worst thing
is not letting ourselves be forgiven by God or ourselves.
Many years ago I was celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation when a young
lad entered the confessional and began running breathlessly through his long
list of sins. After a few moments of this I said, “My boy, are you sorry?”
He replied with some astonished annoyance, “For what?” Upon reflection I
smiled and invited him to continue. He was celebrating God’s love in his
own childlike way.
Isaiah has the first Word and the context is very important for our understanding.
These verses are taken from the section of the Prophet Isaiah known as the
Book of Consolation. These fifteen chapters are full of hopeful promises
made by God, through the prophet, to Israel now in the Babylonian captivity.
They are away from their land and holy places. They are in their own darkness
This text foretells a new and greater release or Exodus. The reading opens
with a short review of the events of the old Exodus, which comprise the national
and cultic identity for the Jewish people. They are reminded of this wonderful
and memorable deed, but here they are back in slavery.
The rest of the reading is about something even greater, a “new Exodus” which
will dim the brilliance of their being led out of Egypt years back. They
are to freely return through the Syrian Desert aided by nourishing and refreshing
rivers and springs. They are to be freed again to be the chosen people of
God. They are to live in their own land with the mission of announcing the
praise of their saving God.
The Gospel opens with a most important detail which is common in John’s central
theme of Jesus’ being the “light”. When something graceful or redemptive
is about to happen it is “in the early morning” or “at daybreak”. Something
of the glory of God is revealed in the “light” and by the “Light”. It is
similar to a theater stage and when Jesus comes into view, then all the lights
come up. With this detail we are alerted that something new of God is about
to be dramatized.
So onto the stage come the Pharisees dragging a woman caught in the act of
adultery. In the Law of Moses, (Leviticus 20, 10 and Deuteronomy 22, 22)
there are mutual condemnation for both partners in adultery. Apparently for
the sake of the drama, the male is not presented. John is arranging a conflict
between their Law of Moses and Jesus’ Law of Mercy; the Old against the New.
The Sixth Commandment forbidding adultery was written on stone. Jesus bends
down and begins writing in the earth. The Pharisees persist in asking him
about this woman’s being condemned by stoning. He stands up and invites each
man who is without sin to begin the lapidation. Beginning with the eldest,
they leave and leave the woman alone with Jesus in the light. The Pharisees
have wandered off into the darkness of their own shame.
So the “new” is about to be seen. Adultery is a violent and terrible offense
to God’s plan for fruitful human love. Jesus is not negating sin, but rather
inviting the sinner to pass beyond the darkness of the past into the light
of God’s gift of life. Jesus does not condone the sin nor condemn the sinner,
but urges her to stay in the light of real relational life.
In the Second Reading today, Paul protests that “forgetting what lies behind,
but straining to what lies ahead” is exactly what the “power of the Resurrection”
means for him. Jesus as Savior continues his mission of redemption by writing
his New Law in the earthiness of our hearts. There is little we can do to
grasp Christ, for he has grasped us and made us his own. There is little
we can do to forget the past except to bring it out into the Light of Christ
which frees us to live more gracefully with the memories.
My father was a lawyer who specialized in Workman’s Compensation Law. The
motto of his firm and his deep belief was that the worst injury is the one
not properly represented. I would like to imagine that he came up with that
while contemplating the Great Representer hanging on the cross. The worst
sin is the one we do to ourselves by attempting to hide it in the dark of
our own shame.
Are you sorry? “For what?” Why be sorry all our lives? Sorrow is a grace
which leads us to the Light. This Light is not intended to emphasize the
sin, but highlight the love who is the Light. I hope that young lad now thirty
years older is still making his confessions in the same grateful spirit,
because he trusts the love of the Great Representer.
“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” Ps. 126