Cycle C – Homily – Fifth Sunday of Lent – 3 April 2022
Lectionary I Lectionary II
Isaiah 43:16-21 Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126:1-6 Psalm 126
Philippians 3:8-14 Philippians 3:4b-14
John 8:1-11 John 12:1-8
(Scriptural quotes below are from the NIV and NAB translations. Other translations are virtually identical.)
Today’s readings present us with an interesting set of ideas. The passage from Isaiah stresses the might of the Lord as enemies are destroyed and the Chosen People are led to a new home. The Psalm centers on restoring the fortunes of Zion. The reading from Philippians deals with giving up everything and continuing on in pursuit of the goal of Christ’s calling. And finally from Lectionary I is the infamous gospel story of the woman caught in adultery. Lectionary II tells the gospel story of Mary of Bethany anointing the feet of Jesus with the expensive nard (perfume) and then wiping the feet with her hair. For this homily we’ll concentrate on the woman caught in adultery.
What kind of thread – what kind of theme – can we see here? Oh, there are several. But, for today I suggest we concentrate on just one by picking and choosing key lines from each of the readings.
In Isaiah, the Lord says, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new!” Hold that thought because it will be relevant throughout the readings! That line is almost lost in the middle of the reiteration of the movement to the Promised Land. And yet, it is a pivotal sentence. The whole history of salvation is based on a new way, a new idea, and a new relationship with God. The past does not exist. Even in Isaiah’s time the people were told that the past was not under consideration. The only thing they were to look at was what the Lord was doing in the present. And that something that the Lord was doing was new and wonderful!
Look at this in relation to a correlated line from the Psalm, “The LORD has done great things for us.” Again, something new and wonderful is happening! Isn’t this the “Good News?” And the unspoken message here reverts back to Isaiah. The past does not exist. Something exciting is happening! Now! Not then but now! In our human ways we want to dwell on the past. After all, the past is a known quantity and we are familiar with it – regardless of whether that past was good, bad, or indifferent. But our God tells us that that past no longer exists.
Notice how the theme crescendos as we look at this line from the next reading in Philippians, “Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God's upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” Now we know for sure! The past does not exist. We can only look forward!
Well, that may be the message in Philippians, but is that really what Jesus said? Of course it is! Let us look closely at the story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin any more." Once more, the past does not exist; only the journey forward is important.
It is easy enough to say that the story of the woman caught in adultery is included for many reasons. Of course, the scribes and Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus. But, perhaps one of the more profound reasons for this story is to demonstrate the absolute love God has for each one of us. Notice that Jesus does not condemn the woman. Jesus does not condemn us either. Notice that Jesus does not dwell on her past. He stresses “from now on” and leaves it at that. Jesus does not dwell on our pasts either. We are always invited to move forward.
Often it is difficult for us to “forget the past” or leave the past behind and concentrate only on what lies ahead. We have been wronged; we have been hurt. Our “re-memories” are strong and sharp. We want justice for the wrongs that have been inflicted upon us. But that is not the message of Jesus. Jesus stresses that the past no longer counts; we are to move forward. We can deal with justice and mercy later but for now, we simply need to concentrate on our own failings and how we are called to move forward without regard for the past.
Something new and wonderful is happening! We are the people of God. Our past failings do not exist. Our God has lifted us up and forgotten our pasts. Something new and wonderful is continuing. We are being saved. We are being welcomed because our God is lifting up the frailty of our humanity and holding us tightly and telling us that great things are happening and then fulfilling those great things right before our very eyes.
Does this relate to Isaiah? Oh yes! The Lord is mighty – though in a far different way! The Lord is mighty enough to hold each one of us with a tenderness and compassion we cannot even fathom. And that, in turn, restores the fortunes to Zion – but, again, in a far different way. Our new fortunes are far different than the ones we would have envisioned. We need only work toward our goal. Even in our failings, however, the wonders are restored to each of us.
We are not condemned, our pasts do not exist, the wondrous fortune our God has stored up for us is ours.
God so loves us so much that there is nothing we can do that is unforgivable and nothing we can do that can prevent God from loving us completely and inviting us to share in the wonders that are beyond our wildest imagination!
Dr Roberta M Meehan, D Min