Fifth Sunday of Lent – Year C – March 13, 2016
Is 43: 16-21; Ps 126; Phil 3: 8-14; Jn 8: 1-11?
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Eg 14.21 to 30 – Eph 2, 4-10 – Jn 11, 1-45
Sunday of Lazarus
1) Right Mercy.
This Sunday’s Gospel presents the encounter between mercy and misery (see Saint Augustine).
Last week we were reminded of this encounter through the parable of the prodigal son, also called the parable “of the Father of mercy”.
Today’s Gospel shows us Jesus who saves an adulterous woman from death by stoning and forgives her (Jn 8.1 to 11). Once again the liturgy proposes the consoling fact of the Mercy of God who meets a misery, by saving a poor woman whom her coreligionists want to kill to enforce the law of God. To be more precise, some of the scribes and Pharisees bring the adulteress to Jesus not for the sake of justice, but to trap him. In fact, in order “to have something to accuse him” (Jn 8, 6), these scribes and Pharisees bring to the Messiah a woman caught in adultery, pretending to entrust him with the judgment according to the Law of Moses.
Actually, it is precisely Christ that they want to impeach, showing that his teaching on God’s merciful love is in contrast with the Mosaic Law, which punished the sin of adultery by stoning. Jesus, “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14), saves the sinner and unmasks the hypocrites, saying: “Let the one among you who is without sin, be the first to cast a stone at this woman” (Jn 8.7).
In this regard, I’d like to draw attention to a fact that seems a minor detail, but that I consider important. While the prosecutors speak, Jesus does not respond immediately, yet he bends to write on the ground with his finger. It is as to say that the words of these scribes and Pharisees are like dust blown by the wind, and to show that He is the divine legislator. “God wrote the law with his finger on tablets of stone” (see St Augustine, Comm. In Evang. of Jn., 33, 5). Jesus is the Legislator of the law of freedom from sin. He is the Justice that is realized completely in Mercy. Even with the adulteress Jesus proclaims justice with force, but at the same time cures the spiritual wounds of the woman with his redeeming, healing, ennobling and uplifting mercy.
Justice and mercy are two different realities only for us who distinguish an act of justice from an act of merciful love (see Benedict XVI). For God it is not so: in Him justice and mercy are not opposed. Mercy is the justice that re-creates the human being who is no longer bounded by his or her own sin, but by the love of God who forgives tenderly. While it is true that correction, and even punishment as a corrective tool, can be providential (and in this sense the Bible often speaks of God that corrects man), that is only because this measure is suggested by the love of mercy.
In reality, only the justice of God can save us and the justice of God is revealed in the Cross. The cross is God’s judgment on us and on the world. If the Cross is the supreme act by which the righteousness of God is revealed, mercy must be the justice of men. “God judges us giving his life for us! Here is the supreme act of justice that defeated once and for all the ruler of this world. This supreme act of justice it is also the supreme act of mercy “(Pope Francis).
2) Christ judges the adulterous forgiving her.
To Jesus’ statement: “He who is without sin be the first to cast the stone” the accusers of the adulteress reacted walking away and leaving the woman alone in front of Christ. There is no longer the agitation of those who wanted to condemn a person to trap Jesus, who had come not to condemn but to save the world. In the silence that fell in the forecourt of the Temple, Jesus celebrates forgiveness as deliverance from the death sentence: a forgiveness that generates a new life, oriented towards the good.
Jesus forgave this accused criminal in the same way in which he forgives all our faults, making gratitude and joy flourish in our heart. On one hand, in forgiveness we come to know who the Lord, love that loves us unconditionally, is. On the other, we know who we are in forgiveness people loved infinitely and unconditionally by God. God reveals himself in the Redeemer as love that forgives and accepts without putting conditions.
What does God reveal in the today’s Gospel, but also in the whole Scripture? That He is mercy and forgiveness that at the center of the world has not put the tree of death, but that one of life: the Cross.
The prodigal son was welcomed back into the house, the adulteress is not stoned, all our sins are forgiven, but for all of this Christ had paid a price because it is He who has taken upon himself our sins and has carried them on the wood of the Cross. “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.” (1 Peter 2: 24). Christ is the true righteousness, He is our righteousness because it is he who makes us righteous before God.
In forgiving, instead of opening the door of death, Christ opens the door of life, because He Himself is the Door. The Lord of life pronounces to the adulteress his own judgment and he not only does not condemn her, but also asks her to sin no more.
To each one of us, forgiven sinners, the Redeemer says: “Go and sin no more.” This “command of love” is not only an invitation to sin no more, but it is also a request to begin a journey on the roads of the world to be witnesses of mercy.
Forgiveness does not condone a person leaving him or her in error, but gives a new lifestyle that involves the renunciation of sin and its consequences of death to go on a journey with Christ and for Christ, and to bring to others the forgiveness and love received.
All consecrated persons are called in a special way to be witnesses of the mercy of the Lord, in which man finds his salvation. They keep alive the experience of God’s forgiveness because they have the awareness of being saved people, of being great only when they recognize to be small, and to feel renewed and enveloped by the holiness of God when they recognize their own sin. For this reason, even for the man of today, consecrated life remains a privileged school of “compunction of heart” and of the humble recognition of one’s misery but, likewise, remains a school of trust in God’s mercy and in his love that He never leaves. In fact, the closer one gets to God, the closer he or she is to Him, the more he or she is useful to others. The consecrated people experience the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God not only for himself or for herself but also for their brothers and sisters because they are called to carry in the heart and prayer the anxieties and expectations of all, especially of those who are far from God “(Benedict XVI).
In particular, the consecrated virgins, who by vocation live and work in the world, are called to the specific commitment of fidelity in “being with the Lord,” the Bridegroom who asks everything. In the consecration ceremony the Bishop asks each of them: “Do you want to be consecrated as the bride of Jesus Christ?”. And the answer, like the one given at weddings, is: “Yes, I do.” They show that Christ was able to make them fall in deeply in love and that they are called to be accountable in front of the human society for the reason for which it pays to devote oneself completely to Christ. They can show in the parish and, especially in the workplace, that their life is attractive and happy. By vocation and mission these consecrated women “are called to attend the ‘suburbs’ and the ‘borders’ of existence, where the drama of a lost and wounded humanity is consumed” (Pope Francis).
In a world dominated by selfishness, which produces rivalry, hatred, jealousy, conflict of interests and wars, in one word hate, they proclaim with their lives the Law of the Love that spreads and gives himself with mercy. This love of mercy, received from Christ- Bridegroom, widens their heart to love others with purity and truth, to forgive offenses as their Bridegroom did carrying the sins of the world on the Cross, and to serve the needs of others. They are consecrated to Him, source of pure and faithful Love, a Love as great and as beautiful as to merit all and more than all, because our life is not enough to reciprocate what Christ is and what he has done for us.
on Jn 8,1-11
ALCUIN. Our Lord at the time of His passion used to spend the day in Jerusalem, preaching in the temple, and performing miracles, and return in the evening to Bethany, where He lodged with the sisters of Lazarus. Thus on the last day of the feast, having, according to His wont, preached the whole day in the temple, in the evening He went to the mount of Olives.
AUG. And where ought Christ to teach, except on the mount of Olives; on the mount of ointment, on the mount of chrism. For the name Christ is from chrism, chrism being the Greek word for unction. He has anointed us, for wrestling with the devil.
ALCUIN. The anointing with oil is a relief to the limbs, when wearied and in pain. The mount of Olives also denotes the height of our Lord’s pity, olive in the Greek signifying pity. The qualities of oil are such as to fit in to this mystical meaning. For it floats above all other liquids: and the Psalmist says, Your mercy is over all Your works. And early in the morning, He came again into the temple: i.e. to denote the giving and unfolding of His mercy, i.e. the now dawning light of the New Testament in the faithful, that is, in His temple. His returning early in the morning, signifies the new rise of grace.
BEDE. And next it is signified, that after He began to dwell by grace in His temple, i.e. in the Church, men from all nations would believe in Him: And all the people came to Him, and He sat down and taught them.
ALCUIN. The sitting down, represents the humility of His incarnation. And the people came to Him, when He sat down, i.e. after taking up human nature, and thereby becoming visible, many began to hear and believe on Him, only knowing Him as their friend and neighbor. But while these kind and simple persons are full of admiration at our Lord’s discourse, the Scribes and Pharisees put questions to Him, not for the sake of instruction, but only to entangle the truth in their nets: And the Scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they say to Him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, if the very act.
AUG. They had remarked upon, Him already, as being over lenient. Of Him indeed it had I been prophesied, Ride on because of the word of truth, of meekness, and of righteousness. So as a teacher He exhibited truth, as a deliverer meekness, as a judge righteousness. When He spoke, His truth was acknowledged; when against His enemies He used no violence, His meekness was praised. So they raised the scandal on the score of justice For they said among themselves, If He decide to let her go He will not do justice; for the law cannot command what is unjust: Now Moses in the law commanded as, that such should be stoned: but to maintain His meekness, which has made Him already so acceptable to the people, He must decide to let her go. Wherefore they demand His opinion: And what say You? hoping to find an occasion to accuse Him, as a transgressor of the law: And this they said tempting Him, that they might have to accuse Him. But our Lord in His answer both maintained His justice, and departed not from meekness. Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground.
AUG. As if to signify that such persons were to be written in earth, not in heaven, where He told His disciples they should rejoice they were v written. Or His bowing His head (to write on the ground), is an expression of humility; the writing on the ground signifying that His law was written on the earth which bore fruit, not on the barren stone, as before.
ALCUIN. The ground denotes the human heart, which yields the fruit either of good or of bad actions: the finger jointed and flexible, discretion. He instructs us then, when we see any faults in our neighbors, not immediately and rashly to condemn them, but after searching our own hearts to begin with, to examine them attentively with the finger of discretion.
BEDE. His writing with His finger on the ground perhaps showed, that it was He who had written the law on stone.
So when they continued asking Him, He lifted Himself up.
AUG. He did not say, Stone her not, lest He should seem to speak contrary to the law. But God forbid that He should say, Stone her; for He came not to destroy that which He found, but to seek that which was lost. What then did He answer? He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. This is the voice of justice. Let the sinner be punished, but not by sinners; the law carried into effect, but not by transgressors of the law.
GREG. For he who judges not himself first, cannot know how to judge correctly in the case of another. For though He know what the offense is, from being told, yet He cannot judge of another’s deserts, who supposing himself innocent, will not apply the rule of justice to himself.
AUG. Having with the weapon of justice smitten them, He deigned not even to look on the fallen, but averted His eyes: And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
ALCUIN. This is like our Lord; while His eyes are fixed, and He seems attending to something else, He gives the bystanders an opportunity of retiring: a tacit admonition to us to consider always both before we condemn a brother for a sin, and after we have punished him, whether we are not guilty ourselves of the same fault, or others as bad.
AUG. Thus smitten then with the voice of justice, as with a weapon, they examine themselves, find themselves guilty, and one by one retire: And they which heard it, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest.
GLOSS. The more guilty of them, perhaps, or those who were more conscious of their faults.
AUG. There were left however two, the pitiable, and the pitiful, And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst: the woman, you may suppose, in great alarm, expecting punishment from one in whom no sin could be found. But He who had repelled her adversaries with there word of justice, lifted on her the eyes of mercy, and asked; When Jesus had lifted Himself up, and saw none but the woman, He said to her, Woman, where are these your accusers? Has no man condemned you? She said, No man, Lord. We heard above the voice of justice; let us hear now that of mercy: Jesus said to her, Neither do I condemn you; I, who you feared would condemn you, because You found no fault in me. What then Lord? Do You favor sin? No, surely. Listen to what follows, Go, and sin no more. So then our Lord condemned sin, but not the sinner. For did He favor sin, He would have said, Go, and live as you will: depend on my deliverance: howsoever great your sins be, it matters not: I will deliver you from hell, and its tormentors. But He did not say this. Let those attend, who love the Lord’s mercy, and fear His truth. Truly, Gracious and righteous is the Lord.