March 21: Fifth Sunday of Lent Year C
Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21;Phil 3:8-14; John 8:1-11
The readings of this Sunday lead us to meet the Lord who wipes away our sins. The prophet Isaiah in the first reading proclaims that God is about to do marvels surpassing the exodus. He will lead his people from the exile into their own land. Just as the Lord buried the humiliation of Egypt in the Red Sea, so will the Lord bury their past shame of Babylon. There will be “no need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before”, for the Lord will transform the desert with water and highways and end the suffering of his people. Paul in the second reading takes up the image of the two exiles and applies them in his newly found life in Christ. This new life in Christ means living in conformity with Christ’s death and resurrection; it means leaving behind our slavery to sin in the hope of our own resurrection.
The story of the woman caught in adultery in the Gospel fits quite well with the common themes in the Gospel of John characterized by contrasting pairs: truth and falsehood, light and darkness, life and death, sin and grace. In fact all these themes are compressed in the story. A rabbi in explaining the best criterion one might use to determine that the night had ended said: “a new day has arrived when you can look at a human face, and see a brother or a sister. If you are unable to see a brother or a sister in every human face, you are still in the darkness of night”. Though the morning had come, accusers of the woman were still in darkness. They could not see that it was their brother and sister who had committed the sin. For their own malicious purposes, they chose to humiliate the more vulnerable partner of the adultery by making her stand alone in the public temple area. Furthermore, the accusers are unable to see that Jesus is also their brother, sent by God to bring them into the light, a theme that comes immediately after this story. In fact the accusers have violated the God-given dignity of the woman by reducing her into an object that they use as a means to trap Jesus, in order to have a charge against him. Their purpose in fact is to destroy Jesus under the pretext of the Mosaic Law. The compassion of Jesus in this encounter is striking. The lesson to the accusers is quite clear. Jesus knows the truth about their self-righteousness. "If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her". None of them dares since they all depart one by one until the woman is left with Jesus, who makes it clear that she is not condemned. Her being acquitted means forgiveness, with the advice to sin no more. The attitude of Jesus in this episode is certainly one of real compassion. Only two weeks to the end of the Lenten season, we are challenged to examine our own attitude towards sin. The message we take home is threefold: 1) Like the accusers of the woman in the Gospel, we tend to be insensitive to our spiritual weakness and failures. 2) The First Letter of John reminds us that "if we say 'we are without sin', we deceive ourselves." 3) Let us pray that we too like the woman in the Gospel may be led to the truth about ourselves and not only be touched by the compassion of Christ, but also to extend that compassion to others.
©2010 John S. Mbinda