Once more we listen to a Gospel of mercy. Last Sunday we have contemplated the embrace of the merciful Father who with his love hugs and rehabilitates the prodigal son, who had left the paternal house and had wasted not only his inheritance, but also his dignity.
Today we contemplate Jesus, who writes the sins of the fragile humanity on sand and his mercy in the heart of a woman thirsty for life.
In this contemplation let’s imagine being present at the scene described by the Gospel of the Roman liturgy. In the morning we can see Jesus present in the temple and the people who go to him. He sits down (the Greek version uses the word kathizo, what a teacher does when he sits at his desk to teach his students). Some scribes and some Pharisees come carrying a woman that they throw at his feet and ask, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” The scribes and the Pharisees want the lapidating stones to “bounce off” from the woman to Christ, who doesn’t answer immediately to the question posed to Him, as it is posed as a mortal trap.
In fact if He had challenged Moses’ law in order to save his reputation as a good man, genteel as a lamb (His Passion is coming), they would have stoned Him for blasphemy.
If He had agreed with the guilty verdict, He would have put headstones on His message of mercy.
Moreover if from one side Jesus could not legitimate the sin, on the other I believe that He hated the fury of the fierce and the impudence of the sinners that wanted to be judges of the sins of the others.
Christ doesn’t fall in the trap and solves the dilemma between justice and pardon: He forgives. He doesn’t recant the Law, but reveals the image of a God who loves his people to the point that they can learn to be merciful too. In doing so He makes brighter the true and happy news of the Gospel which is mercy, creative justice.
In order to teach mercy, Christ writes on sand to show that for Him the words of the accusers have the same value as dust. On the contrary he carves his forgiveness in the heart of the adulterer and today on our hearts, which have become hearts of flesh thanks to the pain of sin. He, the only one without sin, says “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” to explain that the ones that want the application of the Law must first apply it to themselves and to remind that the accusers too are sinners. When the woman was carried to him, Jesus lowered his eyes so as not to hurt her with his gaze. After having forgiven her, He looked at her and she understood that He was seeing in her greatness and a dignity that even sin cannot destroy. He called her ” Woman” in the same way He called his mother, Mary, at Cana and on the Cross, a supreme sign of God’s mercy.
A question of gaze
To learn this mercy we must look at Christ with the same grateful eyes of this sinner who was saved by the pardon of the Redeemer, “Neither do I condemn you”. In the same way Christ will say to every one of us, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” The pure eyes of Christ crossed those pleading of the adulterer. Christ saw in her the original beauty of her soul even if blurred by sin. The woman, whose soul’s eyes had been purified by forgiveness, saw the sky of which the Redeemer’s eyes are the windows
In the light of this encounter let’s make ours the introductory prayer of today’s liturgy: “Lord, you who in Christ make new everything” included our misery, make “in our heart bloom the song of gratitude and of joy”.
The light of Christ’s eyes will reflect in ours and we will have a pure and grateful look as it is required to the consecrated Virgins whose presence makes us look above, and refers to the truest reality toward which all are set forth. The consecrated Virgins give themselves to God and remind us to have a contemplative look. Let’s pray with them and with the Church so that we can be filled with the light and the gratefulness that become donation and service of love. (Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins # 24).
If the Gospel chosen by today’s Roman liturgy celebrates the love that forgives, the one chosen by the Ambrosian liturgy in speaking about Lazarus, teaches about the love that resurrects.
Jesus and Lazarus loved each other like brothers. The Messiah very often used to visit and share the meal with him and his sisters, Mary and Martha. Strange enough- at least to our understanding- when He was told that Lazarus was ill, He waited a couple of days before going to his house and when He gets there His friend is already dead. The sisters of the deceased scold Jesus saying one after the other, “If you had been here our brother would have not died”. Christ is saddened more for the lack of faith of the people he loves than by the reproach. Crying He asks “Where have you put him?” Together they went to the tomb and Jesus, having had the tombstone removed, summoned His friend to life.
For what we learn from the Gospel and if I’m not mistaken, three are the dead people that Christ has resurrected, the son of the widow of Naim, Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus. He does these miracles not to manifest His might and to impress people. I think that Jesus is moved by the excruciating pain of the ones who loved these dead persons: to console a mother, a father and two sisters. There is another very important remark I believe. In all cases Jesus speaks of the dead person as if they were asleep not dead. About the son of the widow, He doesn’t have the time to speak because the decision is too fast. However even to him He says “I say to you, get up!” as if he were a lazy boy remaining in bed after time. When He is told that Jairus ‘ daughter is dead, He answers, “She is not dead, she is sleeping.” When they confirm to Him that Lazarus is dead, He insists, “He is not dead, he is sleeping”. Death for Him is only a Sleep. It is a sleep much deeper than the common sleep but it is so deep that only a supernatural Love can break it. It is the Love asked by the survivors. It is the Love of someone who cries when he sees the cry of the ones he loves. In calling the dead “asleep,” He teaches us that with Him death doesn’t have the last word over life because “sleep” doesn’t stop life forever. He teaches us also that His Love united to the love of the suffering is stronger than death and is able to wake the “dormant”.
The consoling statement by Saint John of the cross: “At the evening of our life we will be judged on our love” can be finished in this way, “At the end of life we will be judged on Love and by Love awoken to the everlasting day.” With prayer, fasting and alms let’s open the eyes of the heart to recognize how much the Love which is Providence for us and for all, can do.
Let’s pray more often to the Madonna and let’s prepare ourselves to live with her the Easter of Resurrection of her Son, our brother, He who is only Love.
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IS 43: 16-21; Ps 126; Phil 3:8-14; Jn 8:1-11
Sunday of Lazarus
Dt 6:4a:26,5-11; Ps 104: Rm 1:18-23a; Jn 11:1-53
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Monsignor Francesco Follo is permanent observer of the Holy See to UNESCO, Paris.