Fifth Sunday of Lent
God's Benevolence Nurtures All Creation
God's Great Love Surpasses Justice
First Reading (Is 43: 16- 21): God wants to create something new
Second Reading (Phil 3: 8-14): To acknowledge Christ Jesus as most precious of all
Gospel (Jn 8: 1-11): Jesus has pity on the sinful woman
-“The father conceals the misconduct of the son, and the son conceals the misconduct of the father”(1)
-“A man who is mean to his closest comrade can be mean to anyone.” (2)
“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’… Jesus said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.' When they heard this, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders.” (Jn 8: 1-11, summary)
“I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3: 13-14)
The first Scriptural passage above is the well-known story of 'Throwing the first stone.' The value and meaning of this story is of particular importance in our modern society when we talk so often about justice and reason. The story teaches us how we should face sin and the sinner and how to distinguish between treating sin and the sinner.
The story tells about a woman caught committing adultery whom the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus. They wanted to see how Jesus would deal with her. The Scripture passage clearly states that “they said this to test Jesus.”
Sometimes behind the most flamboyant banner or beautiful words there are hidden a variety of open or secret power struggles.
In this situation the scribes and Pharisees were seeking to set a trap for Jesus. If he released the woman who had publicly committed adultery, Jesus would be making light of the Law of Moses, that is, totally ignoring God’s Law. On the other hand, if Jesus approved the woman’s death by stoning, he who ceaselessly emphasized benevolence, mercy and forgiveness, would be acting against his own words. People would regard his words as empty and worthless. It was truly a double dilemma. No matter how Jesus answered or decided, he would fall into their trap.
Without doubt justice and reasoning are important pillars of a righteous life. They are the foundation of a healthy society. But sometimes greatness and nobility of life has its own standard which surpasses justice and reason. It springs from a heart full of mercy and sensitivity that respects life and includes unconditional forgiveness..
During the reckless era of the Cultural Revolution in Modern China, there were instances of children and parents accusing each other in court. This act of 'punishing one's own relations for the sake of justice' was considered politically correct and was highly acclaimed. From a rational point of view, there may be no reason to object to this behavior. But Confucius would rather teach people, “the father should conceal the misconduct of the son and the son should conceal the misconduct of the father.” (1) That is, if one's parents or children commit an offense, let society and the law judge them. We should not of our own accord send our closest relatives to death! People who could send their closest relations to death had no problem with 'finding a reason,' they had a problem with their 'hearts.'
In ancient times people believed that “a man who is mean to his closest comrades can be mean to anyone.” (2) That is, if people can treat those dearest and closest to themselves so heartlessly, how can they avoid treating other people even more heartlessly?
Jesus invited those 'without sin' to cast the first stones. That invitation was not to stimulate their sense of fairness, but to revitalize their hearts. According to reason the woman had sinned, was guilty and deserved to be punished. What did it matter whether others were sinful or not? But those who heard Jesus' words began to face themselves honestly and recognized themselves as the true sinners. “Beginning with the elders” they started to walk away quietly. They could not face themselves and so they were not qualified to punish the adulterous woman. This was not a reflection based on reason but because their hearts were moved. In the end which of us does not need sympathy, kindness and forgiveness? Which of us, having fallen, does not hope for one more opportunity? Are we not all the same in such circumstances?
When I have been in mainland China, I have never judged people and affairs there, even less do I dare judge another's wrongdoing. I am not qualified to judge and I could not pick up the first stone. I ask myself: if I were in a similar situation would I act any differently? Am I sure I would act more appropriately or better?
However, Jesus' forgiveness was not the same as tolerating or encouraging sin. He said gravely to the woman whose sin had been forgiven, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Forgiveness can never become an excuse for committing sin again.
In that way sin becomes a blessing: To show gratitude to God for forgiving our sins, we promise to “forget what lies behind,” that is, let go of the heavy burden of the past, courageously put aside all that has taken place, and turn over a new leaf in our lives. We “strain forward to what lies ahead” towards the goals and ideals before us..
Even more, with care and prudence, and a love based on sorrow, we must nurture hope for new life, using all our energy to continue living a full life in order to “press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”