The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Psalms 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Reflection Question: In what manner and for what reason do you come before Jesus?
In my work for the Church, I have met many people who desire to come before Jesus. Some are grieving or have suffered an illness; some are far away from family or are suffering from broken marriages or finances. A few even come in gratitude, having experienced great blessings.These people were all seeking Jesus. Many of us were brought before Jesus by our parents or some other trusted person in baptism. Some people encounter Jesus in unexpected ways, times or places. All of us are seeking the mercy and meaning that only Jesus can bring.
In the gospels, many, many people come to Jesus, they seek him out, for healing and to hear him teach. Others come to challenge him and even to stop him from ministering.
In John’s gospel account of the woman caught in adultery, we see a very dramatic encounter between Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees, and the guilty woman. Note how she comes before Jesus! Possibly she is kicking and screaming. She had not been seeking him out, rather, the woman is hauled in front of Jesus in great shame and in fear for her life. She is being used as a pawn in a scheme to trap Jesus so that his enemies “could have some charge to bring against him (Jn 8:6)”.
What do you think she was expecting from Jesus?
My second semester of high school, I slacked off completely on my school work. Then I dreaded having to show my report card to my father--a stern philosophy professor. My grades had dropped 30 points in several classes. I was petrified and nauseated, knowing what his reaction would be. I knew that I had slacked off; I knew he would be disappointed. I was not even hoping for mercy, but I knew I would receive justice. There was a lot of yelling and crying and, of course, I lost all my social privileges. The anger, disappointment and punishment was very much what I deserved. It was a just punishment for my sins.
The nameless adulterous woman knew what to expect from her accusers. Most likely, she was expecting justice--which in her case meant death. But, instead of judgement and a grisly death, she received God’s boundless mercy and a second chance to live a holy life. She encountered the Lord face-to-face and was transformed. Not at all what was expected! As the first reading from Isaiah says:
“See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Again and again our merciful God saves us! We don’t usually think of this encounter as one of Jesus’ miracles like his healings or his exorcisms, but maybe we should. Jesus’ love and mercy saves this woman from sin and death. That is a miracle!
And what of her accusers? How do the scribes and Pharisees come before Jesus? With self righteousness, deceit, and malice in their hearts. They come to trap him so that they can arrest him and put an end to his challenging teachings.
What do you think they were expecting from Jesus? For them, the law was everything--even to the point of being an idol. They were expecting justice according to the law, or at least a good fight about it. Instead of a debating the law of Moses, Jesus refused to enter the drama. He wrote with his finger on the ground. What could he have been writing? Maybe he was writing the law in the sand and not in stone to show that it was secondary to love and mercy.
Jesus challenges the accusers: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” He knows that all humans are sinners and so this is brilliant statement. It causes the crowd to examine their lives. It also causes them to see the woman as a fellow sinner. If they desire mercy for their sinful selves, they must also desire mercy for her. Jesus alone, the only sinless one, has the right to cast the first stone--but he refuses.
The scribes and pharisees came seeking justice and received it. They were not able to kill the adulterous woman and satisfy the law, but they got a lesson in God’s justice: that justice is God’s alone and that God’s justice is never without mercy.
All throughout the Mass we ask God for his mercy: “Be merciful to us, O Lord!” and “Though we are sinners, we trust in his mercy”. The account of the woman caught in adultery teaches us that we are right to come before Jesus for mercy and meaning, but that our expectations of that mercy will always fall short. God is all merciful beyond our imaginations and expectations. And when we receive God’s boundless mercy for ourselves, we are then bound by justice to extend it to our fellow sinner
By: Kristina Antolin Davies, Director of Adult Faith Formation, Saint Vincent Basilica Parish, Latrobe