March 13, 2016
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple; all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”
Just in case you weren’t aware, today is the 5th Sunday of Lent, which means that next Sunday is Passion Sunday. So, let’s look at where we’ve been in our Lenten series. We began with the temptation in the desert with Father John. Then Deacon Bill Sheffield talked about the Transfiguration of Christ. During out Lenten Mission, Father Louis talked about the parable of the fig tree, which the master was about to give up on. And then last week we heard the parable of The Prodigal Son. Father John spoke on God’s great mercy and our need to be reconciled. Where are we now?
Well, as I said, we’re in the 5th Week of Lent, which means what? That Easter is just around the corner. So, where we want to be is renewed through this time of Lent to be ready for the coming of the Savior on Easter morning through His resurrection. We’ve experienced temptation, we’ve been transformed, we’ve been warned about being stuck in our old ways and told the great news of God’s unending mercy. And then today we continue this journey with a need for forgiveness. Where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to be. It’s how we measure our progress.
In truth, where we’ve been is at some point mired in sin in our lives. Where we are now is a time to be reconciled to God by His mercy. Where we want to be is living a new life – cleansed of the past through that reconciliation with God, to be forgiven and called to a life of holiness. But I think a lot of us recognize the struggle, or the tension, with what we were and what we want to be. For instance, I recently had the opportunity to go up to Missouri to see my youngest daughter, Rebekah, on the occasion of her 19th birthday. I know that it’s hard to believe that I could have a child 19 years old [laughter]. I look SO young [more laughter]. And, or course, I’m devilishly good-looking … [more laughter]. Don’t feel bad. I have trouble reconciling that myself. But this was going to be her first birthday away from home with no family around. So, I took a couple of days to go up to be with her. And I chose to drive, thinking I would have all of this time, solitude, and be able to see all of these different sights. It was a stupid mistake – one that will not be repeated in my lifetime. Thirteen and half hours of purgatory. Now on the way up, I chose to go through Dallas and Oklahoma and then across Missouri thinking that because there were more freeways, I would get there faster. Just the other side of Dallas, 5 hours into this trip, I realized that I was closer to my home than being able to see my daughter. I began to think that it would have been better to stay home where I was comfortable, even though I wanted so much to see Rebekah. That’s the struggle that I speak of today – the tension between where I had been and where I wanted to be.
We want to live a holy life which requires that we leave our old ways behind, be forgiven, and live life as a new creation. But our old ways are so comfortable. Like my thought of being home instead of pushing forward to my reward, which was spending time with my daughter.
I’m not sure if anyone in here has had the opportunity to go and see the movie, Risen. But you can see this struggle played out in this movie, very plainly. The Tribune’s journey from loyal Roman soldier with the belief that power would bring him wealth, and that wealth would bring him peace through possessions like a country estate. Then his struggle to try to find the body of Jesus. And then the tension of leaving where he was and going home and listening to the message of Jesus through His apostles. The holy tension of going back to what he was comfortable with or struggling forward to a greater reward. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see this movie, go. It’s a very well-made movie, and it’s a very good message.
So, to be reconciled and to get to where we want to be, we must be forgiven for what we’ve been. But what does forgiveness actually mean? Because living in and amongst worldly things, I think we lose the true understanding of what forgiveness is. If there’s a hurt to you, or to someone, this is a disordered life according to what God wants for us. That hurt needs to be healed through forgiveness. But is it truly forgiveness if there are conditions set? Or if there are stipulations to that forgiveness? “I forgive you if…” or “I forgive you but…” And if we hold on to our hurts and bring them up again in the future, that is not forgiveness. Forgiveness is wiping the hurt away, not storing it for some weapon in some future argument.
And that’s exactly what we hear in Isaiah this morning when he says, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new.” What God is saying is, “When I forgive your sins, they’re not just forgiven, they are forgotten, cast away, never to be thought of again.
Which brings us to today’s Gospel from John. Now, unlike the parables and the recent homilies we’ve heard, this is a real-world lesson. In no place here do we hear the name Mary, nor is anywhere else in the Gospels, there an inference that this woman in today’s Gospel is Mary Magdalene. This woman does appear to be, as Father John said last week, a woman who works for a “commercial dating service that charges by the hour” [giggles]. I believe that’s an accurate portrayal. So why do we believe this woman’s a prostitute? Well, it seems that the scribes and the pharisees were able to lay their hands on her very easily, caught in the very act of adultery, at just the right moment as Jesus is teaching in the temple area. They bring her before Jesus and announce her crime as adultery and then ask Him what they should do.
Well, first of all there’s a problem in the fact that there’s only one person standing before Him. And, as the pharisees and scribes say, they know that Mosaic Law says she should be stoned for the sin. But they also know that Roman law prohibits the stoning. So, Jesus recognizes this for exactly what it is and it’s a trap. This isn’t about a crime or the sin of adultery because if it were, there would be two people standing before Jesus. So, what does Jesus do? He kneels down and begins to write in the dirt. We have no idea what He’s writing. But is it out of the question to believe that possibly it’s the names of each of her accusers who may very well have availed themselves of this “commercial dating service that charged by the hour”? Or that He was writing the laws that each of them had broken according to Moses. We have no idea. It could have been a bunch of squiggly lines for all we know. But we do know that in a moment everything changed. Because He stood up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And then, He bends back down and begins to write on the ground again, not even looking at them. And when He looks up, they’re all gone, not condemning her, but condemning themselves by walking away. First the elders, and then everyone else. And when they were gone, Jesus stands up and asks, “Has no one condemned you?” And she says, “No one, sir.” And Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you.” And then He says, “Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore.” There’s that holy tension – the struggle – wanting to go back to what she was but knowing that she is called now to be something so much more. Okay. She can’t just suddenly go back to her “commercial dating job”. You mean at the end of Lent we are not just going to be able to revert back to our old way of life? Giving up chocolate for 40 days is not going to work. Two weeks ago, we were told that we either become fruitful or we’re going to be cut down. That’s what we hear with St Paul today. It’s not that I’ve already taken hold of it – this forgiveness – or have already attained perfect maturity. But I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.
Forgiveness, and living a holy life, is a work in progress for each one of us. And yet we still must be aware of the pitfalls. St Augustine, a recipient of God’s great mercy himself, warned there are two great roadblocks to forgiveness. One is the presumption of forgiveness. Have you noticed that we are no longer scandalized by sin? In a sense, we’ve almost normalized it to the point that I don’t even know that we are sorry anymore when we fail God. We believe that we can give in to our worldly desires, go to Confession, receive absolution, and everything’s fine. But, if nothing else, please understand this. The priest in the confessional knows your words. God in Heaven knows your heart.
The second roadblock is harder to overcome and is much more heartbreaking – when we believe that our sins are so great that even God Himself cannot forgive us, brothers and sisters, the hard work has already been done. He died on the cross for us. All we have to do is ask for forgiveness. God’s mercy is there, no matter how deep a hole we dig ourselves.
Lent is a time to look back to where we’ve been, look at where we are, and decide where we want to be. A time when we come face-to-face with that struggle – that holy tension – choosing to stay where we’ve been, or desiring holiness through His forgiveness.
Our Lenten series ends next week on Passion Sunday with Deacon Ken Henry’s message on Jesus Christ, the Face of God’s Mercy. Now, having said that, I do want to acknowledge Sefanit Mekonnen our leader of the New Evangelization Ministry. If you like these series, and we’ve had 3 of them now, but if you like them, understand that these are a creation of Sefanit, through prayer and lots of deep thought she comes up with an over-arching theme, and then she breaks it into segments, and then she presents it to Father John. The easy part is that we get to just stand up here and preach on whatever it is whatever it is that she has already prayed over and thought about. So, if you get an opportunity to see Sefanit, tell her how much you appreciate it. Send her an email.
As always, our take-away today is that there is a holy tension in everything that we do, in everything that we experience. Are we going to stay where we were, or are we going to move forward to something better? To take it further, I would invite you to talk about the tensions and the struggles that you live with in your daily life. And, of course, to take it deeper – hopefully, everyone in here has already registered for FORMED. If not, its www.pophouston.org/formed. *
- Click on the 3 horizontal lines in the upper left corner of the window.
- Hover over “Programs”, and click on “Faith Formation”
- Click on the block for SYMBOLON –
- Scroll down and click on Session 4 – The Story of Salvation: Creation, Fall & Redemption
And you can begin a very, very interesting lesson.
* Instructions have been updated since homily was first given.