Homily for Sunday, 17 March 2013
5th Sunday of Lent: Is 43:16-21. Phil 3:8-14. Jn 8:1-11.
(May be used any day this week: 2 Jgs 4:18-21, 32-37. Jn 11:1-45)
This 5th Sunday of Lent is praising the fact that God is always offering to forgive while also asking us to sin no more, and calling us to be people that forgive along with Him. We will celebrate the resurrection of Easter praising the fact that God engenders new life… in us… and in everybody. God bless you Pope Francisco.
Jesus saves the adulteress from stoning and wants to save us all from sin and death. Lent isn't in order to put on a 'holy hat', but in order to develop a truly loving heart. In the process, Jesus actually allows his own self to be condemned by man. He must be mad! - madly longing for our love!
The Gospel is very relevant because one fault from which we need to be saved is the sin of condemning others for their faults. Christ wants to cure a world that 'throws stones'. A friendly correction is very different to an outright criticism. I like the way the Spanish use the verb 'to apport' (aportar). It means to inform someone of their mistakes to help them avoid making more. I try to begin with the phrase "I may be mistaken, but I think that x y z...". That's very different to an outright criticism which condemns them to feel ashamed! In fact, the patron saint of priesthood (Jean Vianney - 1785-1853 - the 'Curate of Ars' in France) spent most of his priesthood sitting down in front of his church and people would approach for confession because they knew that he was a friendly and patient listener. He wasn't always 'running around'. So it's relevant for me in my wheelchair!
We shouldn't just forgive faults, but help people realise their potential to do well and promote them. Our first Pope is a good example. Out of cowardice Peter denied three times that he even knew Christ (as we'll remember on Good Friday), but he certainly improved. The Samaritan woman in John 4 had her past mistakes recorded by Jesus, along with an experience of his loving forgiveness, and she ended up converting many with her Good News. As the pharisees criticised the woman who kissed the feet of Jesus in Luke 7, Jesus responded in her favour saying: "The one who is forgiven a lot is the one who will love a lot" (Lk 7:47). This Sunday, Jesus is not condoning the woman's fault but He's making it clear that those who condemn are themselves very much at fault.
Think of the call of the tax-collector Mathew (Mt 9:1-13): 'The Pharisees saw this and said to the disciples of Jesus, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 12 Jesus heard this and said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. 13 Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners."'. It's clear that there's a lot of evil in our world, but that's not because of 'bad' people, but because of 'ignorant' people. They just need friendly instruction. Christ asks for our help. Fraternal correction implies that you really believe in the potential of the other, to be a good living Christ and that you just want to help Christ to be born in him! One of the things that's clear in 'community life', is that we have to 'correct' each other. It's done with a heart of love - not annoyance. It isn't a question of argueing, but of proposing things. It's not for any selfish gain, but in the hope that it will help us all to be like Christ. That's a tremendous gain!
It's very clear in the 'Our Father'. We ask God to forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. In your case, how forgiving is that? Jesus wants us to respect that our brothers and sisters have the potential to be fantastic beautiful people of love. That includes those who have done things obviously evil. Christ forgave his crucifyers "For they know not what they do". But if we all help Christ, then they may come to know! Man always has someone about whom to complain but man becomes a true son of God when the wrongdoer becomes for him someone for whom to care. Forgiving is what eventually heals. Condemning destroys and the one to be really destroyed is the one who condemns! To quote St Paul: 'I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love...' (Eph 4:1-2). But he goes even further elsewhere: 'Bless those who persecute you'! (Rom 12:14).
As an international missionary Church ('catholic') we should remember that propriety changes with cultures and ages etc.. As a little example, if a red-indian was on the streets of Europe in mid summer, he would probably be improperly dressed, yet may be very chaste! I mention it just with regard to how the youth judge the elderly and visa versa. Let's cure a world that throws many stones!
It may seem irrelevant that Jesus bends down and writes on the ground today, but it speaks to me of the fact that he has something important to teach and wants to instill his Word in all of us. Official Jewish teachers used to have their lesson kept in writing. Jesus is willing to 'bend down' and 'scrape the dust' in order to do it and that symbolises the fact that the Son of God really bent down in becoming a man! Will we let him inscribe on our hearts and minds? As the first reading of Isaiah says today, God won't impose. We should humbly let him instruct us and guide us.
The Gospel begins saying that Jesus spent the night on the mount of Olives in prayer and in the morning went to the temple to teach. 'Prayer and preaching' is the official job ('charism') of us Verbum Dei missionaries (as it is of every Bishop!) and it's really what God asks of every Christian! The way the Gospel today has Jesus bending down to write something with his finger in the dust speaks to me of how God thinks things out and prepares what he is going to communicate to us. Christ wants us to be ambitious in a loving way. As the second reading says, let's go for the goal!
Whoever has no sin can throw the first stone at me!