Homily – 5th Sunday Lent Year C (21 March 2010)
Deacon Les Ruhrumund
The definition of adultery is the voluntary sexual intercourse by a married person with someone other than his or her spouse.
According to Jewish law at the time of Jesus, adultery was a very serious crime – on a par with murder – and was punishable by death; death for both parties, the adulterer and the adulteress. The Mishnah, the redacted Jewish law, states that the penalty for a man for adultery is strangulation: “The man is to be enclosed in dung up to his knees and a soft towel set within a rough towel is to be placed around his neck (in order that no mark may be made, for the punishment is God’s punishment). Then one man draws in one direction and another in the other direction, until he be dead.” The penalty for a married or engaged woman who committed adultery was death by stoning.
The woman that was brought to Jesus in the Temple in the early morning had been caught sleeping with a man other than the one to whom she was either married or betrothed and was therefore should be put to death.
Jesus in his humanity would have understood the daily challenges, struggles and frailties of our human sexuality and that not one of those judging and condemning this woman was without sin; and more specifically sexual sin of the body, heart or mind.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that adultery involves more than illicit sex; it is as much a matter of the heart as it is of the body. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ but I say to you, that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28). Adultery is as much unfaithfulness in our physical actions as it is unfaithfulness in our thoughts and desires; unfaithfulness that inevitably leads to the breakdown in our relationship with God and with each other.
John tells us that the woman’s accusers are testing Jesus. They want him to decide whether the woman should live or die; whatever he decides he’s in trouble – either with the Jewish authorities or their Roman rulers. But he in turn tests them and asks them to look into their hearts and if what they find there is pure and sinless, then let them judge. Her accusers walk away, beginning with the eldest; the older adults would know best just how difficult it is to live a chaste and morally pure life in body, heart and mind. We grapple with our human sexuality throughout our lives – it’s not a struggle that’s restricted to adolescence or young adulthood.
And then Jesus makes his decision – he forgives her.
He doesn’t say “Hey it’s OK to sleep around; don’t worry about it.” That’s not what he says. Rather it’s as if he says to her “Look, you’ve made a real mess of things up until now but you can change if you want to; you have a future as well as a past. With my grace you can be saint.”
Jesus says the same to each of us here tonight as we start the final two weeks of our preparation for Easter.
While most of us will have been faithful to the sixth commandment that specifically forbids adultery, it is likely that all of us have been unfaithful to some of the other commandments.
Is there any one amongst here who is not in need of Christ’s mercy and grace of forgiveness?
Have we been faithful in our relationship with God?
What priority does God have in our lives? Do we seriously want to know, love and serve God?
Is it important to us to spend time with God in daily prayer and faithfully attend Sunday Mass? Sunday is the Lord’s Day when we honour the day that Jesus rose from the dead.
Do we use only loving language when we talk to and about God? There is never reason to use God’s name in vain or to allow anyone else to. Imagine if I used my wife’s name as a swearword? Or if I said nothing when someone else used her name disrespectfully? Would you then believe me when I tell you that I love her? Disrespect and contempt for the name is disrespect for the person.
And then we could ask whether we’ve been faithful in our relationship with others?
Do we bring peace and happiness to our families?
Are we loving and respectful to our parents or to their memory? And have we forgiven them for their faults, failings and mistakes?
Have we placed ourselves or others in danger because of the use of alcohol or other drugs?
Do we resent or harbor a desire for revenge against someone who has hurt us?
Are we generously in assisting those in need?
Do we respect and honour the covenant of marriage and the holiness of sex exclusively within marriage?
Do we dishonor the gift of our human sexuality by reading or watching pornography?
Have we consistently encouraged others to maintain good moral standards?
Have we stolen or damaged the property of others or cheated at work or in school?
Are we satisfied with the gifts and talents God has given us or do we compare ourselves with others and become resentful or bitter?
Do we maintain our Christian hope in spite of hard times and difficulties?
Do we reflect in our relationships with others the peace, hope and love of a person created in the image of God and redeemed through the love of Christ?
We have all been unfaithful in one way or another and are all in need of healing, forgiveness and the grace to start again. It is through the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of reconciliation that we are healed both spiritually and physically
Jesus looks up and says to each of us “Come to me, I don’t condemn you; I love you. Receive my grace and sin no more.”