FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT, 2019
THE PAST, THE PRESENT, AND THE FUTURE: DROP YOUR STONE
Readings: 1st- Isaiah 43:16-21; 2nd- Phil. 3:8-14; Gospel- Jn. 8:1-11
The story of the woman caught in adultery in today’s gospel gives us a picture of the three aspects of the human life but importantly opens us up to the overflowing grace and mercy of God. Her past, present, and future are brought before Christ.
- Then the Scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.
- They said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.”
- Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women” (Jn. 8:4-5).
- “So, what do you say?”
- Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
- But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”
- And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.
- So, he was left alone with the woman before him
- Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, has no one condemned you?”
- “Neither do I condemn you.”
- “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
The narrative about the past shows that the Scribes and the Pharisees had some case against the woman. Their allegation is based on the law of Moses with emphasis on punishment. Pay attention to this, the law of Moses is good. It helped the Jews to stay straight. It hinged on strict observance of rules with little emphasis on the spirit of the law. For instance, the Scribes and the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery just as the law prescribed. No one wants to listen to her case. They’re not interested in the background to her story. Their goal is to subject her to public ridicule. And where is her partner? Did she commit adultery alone? No one talked about the man who committed adultery with her. Just fulfill the law of Moses without paying considering the shortcomings of the human person for whom it was made, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women” (Jn. 8:4-5).
The woman’s present is that she is before Christ. Her past is dirty: She’s caught in adultery. She’s condemned by the law of Moses. She’s to face ridicule, then punishment. She’s now before Christ for judgment and they say to Jesus, “What do you say?” What do you say about her past? As is common with humanity, it’s about her and not about her accusers. They want Jesus to pass judgment quick in fulfillment of the law. In that moment, Jesus bends down and begins to write. What exactly is Jesus writing? Scripture isn’t explicit on that but he’s writing something serious. About the law? About the accusers? About sins and forgiveness?
On Mount Sinai, God wrote on the tablets for Moses. The book of Hebrews tells us, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe” (Heb. 1:1). Jesus is the New Law and its fulfillment. The New Law overrides the old law, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lk. 10:27). Jesus writes, “Do not judge and you will not be judged” (Lk. 6:37). Jesus reminds them, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-45). Isn’t that scary? Then Jesus throws the bombshell; “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And what happens? They start to leave “one by one beginning with the elders.”
Obviously, the accusers of this lady aren’t ready to deal with their past, so they walk away. The accused has advantage here, “So she is left alone” with Jesus. What a privilege! Her life is going to change. Her past is going to be cleaned up. Her present is going to open up. Her future is going to be transformed. Jesus looks up and says to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replies, “No one, Sir.” Hence, the verdict comes from Jesus, “Neither do I condemn you. Go home and from now on do not sin anymore.” This confirms what Saint Paul says about Jesus and the Law of freedom, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:2). I’m wondering what these guys who caught the woman would do when they see her afterwards. Of course, she will be the one preaching to them about the law of love going forward.
In the second reading, Saint Paul tells us about the supreme advantage of knowing Jesus. He uses his personal experience as a platform to preach about letting go of the past. According to the apostle, “I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” The old Saul threw everything aboard to follow Jesus. He discarded all other advantages for the sake of the supreme advantage and reminds us to keep matching in the hope of taking possession of our promised inheritance as Christians. His past was Saul. His present is the continuous struggle, to continue straining forward. His future is the goal which is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
We all have our pasts, some negative, others positive. Some of us have been abused. Some of us have been exploited. Some of us have been victims. Some of us have done dirty things too- addicts of substances, drugs, alcohol, and bad sexual behaviors. Those belong to our past. The woman caught in adultery is a great lesson for us, so also Saint Paul. This woman represents God’s love for us. She represents not only our past and present but importantly our tomorrow (future) which is a break from sin and eternal life. Jesus came to set us free. He gives meaning to our present and ushers us into God’s grace for a better future.
How about you? What’s your view of others? Condemn them? Do you still have your stone in your hand ready to stone your dad/mom/husband/wife/brother/sister/neighbor/colleague for whatever past offence she/he committed? Come on! Drop your stone. Listen to Jesus; “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” Are you the one? You have two options: drop the stone pick up grace or keep the stone and walk away empty handed. Throw the stone if you are clean of every sin. If you are not, then, offer mercy and pardon, not condemnation. Jesus says to you, “Neither do I condemn you.” He takes care of your past, present, and future. Drop the stone. Drop the sin. Embrace the grace and continue to strain forward for greater things in Jesus. You don’t need any stone in heaven.