5th Sunday Lent 2013
17 March 2013
Deacon Les Ruhrmund
As we begin these last two weeks of Lent we are reminded in the readings that when we exercise power as if God were doing it, cruelty and suffering surely follow. God’s ways are not our ways and God doesn’t see the world through the myopic lenses of humankind.
In the first reading from the Book of Isaiah, God tells his people that while they have already experienced his favour in their escape from Egypt through the Red Sea and their deliverance from captivity in Babylon – they haven’t seen anything yet!!
He cautions them not to get so lost in the past that they miss the signs in the present.
“I’m doing a new thing” he says.
What is to come will be considered impossible!
“I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
That new way is Jesus Christ.
In the extract we heard from Paul’s letter to the Philippians he says “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Paul is saying that compared to the personal experience of knowing Jesus, everything else is worthless.
In the previous verses he says that before he knew Jesus he was a righteous Jewish man;
circumcised and faithful to the letter in the law and that in the name of righteousness and God’s law, he had persecuted the church of Christ.
But now, he says, I realise that that was just garbage.
In the Gospel we have the incident of the woman caught in adultery.
In terms of the law the woman was facing death by stoning.
Where do we see ourselves in this story?
Are we the executioners? Or the bystanders? Or the sinful woman?
The executioners have religious law on their side. In terms of their religion they are justify to kill the woman. In terms of their law, they felt justified in having Jesus killed. It matters not that inside they may be boiling with hatred, jealousy, revenge or lust – as long as they do the right things, virtue has been achieved.
The executioners measure their virtue by the things that they do.
There are Christians too who measure their virtue purely by their actions. They have a check list of mandatory prayers and practices in their head and as long as they tick the boxes they’re happy that they are living a virtuous Christian life – even though they may carry in their hearts strong prejudice, intolerance and anger.
Being a disciple of Jesus is much more difficult than that.
Our Christian mission is to be the body of Christ on earth;to be the hands, feet, eyes, ears and mouths of Jesus.
Every time we reject or condemn someone for example because of their race, religion, education, health status, possessions, age or sexual orientation, we are executioners.
Jesus says put down your stones.
The bystanders are attracted by the noise and the spectacle; perhaps they’re curious and have never seen an execution before or alternatively they’re unmoved by witnessing someone having their flesh and bones smashed with rocks.
We have bystanders in the Church as well. They come to Mass every weekend but their religion has little or no impact on their daily lives; they’re unmoved by the sacrifice of the Mass. Lent comes and goes with little effort to embrace penance, prayer or charity.
When we allow others to play the role of executioner in our presence, we are a bystander.
When we for example allow people in our presence to take the Lord’s name in vain or to insult someone because of their race, religion or sexuality, we are bystanders.
When we ignore acts of dishonesty or malice we are bystanders.
Jesus asks us not to remain passive but to act as he would.
And then we come to the woman caught in adultery.
Imagine if every time we sinned we were publically punished. Is there one of us here I wonder who would not suffer punishment this very day? We can all identify with the woman;
perhaps not in sexual infidelity but in unfaithfulness never the less. Every uncharitable thought, word and deed stands as witness to our unfaithfulness.
Jesus says “I don’t condemn you; go and do not sin again.”
Being a Christian is hard work.
Quoting Francis Spufford, a contemporary English author and lecturer at Goldsmiths College, London:
“We are supposed, always, to be trying to love what we don’t like or understand or want to touch; we are supposed to be taking as little notice of boundaries to love as we believe God does. We are supposed to be looking at each other in guilty brotherhood and sisterhood.
We are not supposed to be assigning guilt according to who does what with whom…..
“We are supposed to be on the side of goodness in the sense that we need it, not that we are it.”
In this coming week we can consider the many times that our thoughts, words and deeds have reflected those of the executioners, the spectators and the woman caught in adultery.
We are encouraged in this week as we approach Easter to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation seeking God’s mercy, his forgiveness and the grace to do much better.