One-page Summary: Lent V [C] (April 7) Homily on Is 43:16-21; Phil 3:8-14; John 8:1-11
Introduction: Reminding us of God’s readiness to forgive sin, give the sinner a second chance, bind up broken lives, and restore people to His friendship, today’s readings challenge us to show the same mercy to the sinners around us and to live as forgiven people, actively seeking reconciliation with God and with one another. The central theme of all three readings is a merciful God’s steadfast love. The readings remind us that we should not be self-righteous and condemn the lives of others when God is calling them tenderly to conversion.
Scripture lessons summarized: Explaining how a merciful God forgives the sins of His chosen people and leads them back from the Babylonian exile, the first reading reminds us that we too are forgiven, and we are saved from our own sinfulness. In the second reading, Paul presents himself as a forgiven sinner who has been completely transformed by his Faith in Christ Jesus. His life is an example of the Gospel exhortation, “Sin no more.” Paul loves Christ so much he wants to share in His sufferings and even in His death so that he may share Christ’s Resurrection. The sinful woman’s story of sin committed, and sin forgiven in today’s Gospel, shows the inexhaustible mercy and compassion Jesus gives to repentant sinners. In addition, by making sinlessness the condition for throwing the first stone, Jesus forces the accusers to assess their own souls and to leave. Thus, He grants justice to the accusers and mercy to the sinful woman. In our own lives, we bear witness to the Justice of God by confessing our sinfulness and resolving to avoid sin, and we bear witness to God’s Mercy by accepting the forgiveness of our sins and promising to forgive those who have offended us.
Life messages: # 1: We need to become forgiving people, ready for reconciliation: Jesus has shown inexhaustible mercy and compassion to sinners by dying for our sins. But we are often self-righteous, like the Pharisees, and ready to spread scandal about others with a bit of spicy gossip. We are judgmental about the unmarried mother, the alcoholic, the drug addict and the shop-lifter, ignoring Jesus’ command: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Let us learn to acknowledge our sins, ask God’s forgiveness every day and extend the same forgiveness to our erring brothers and sisters. We need to learn to hate the sin but love the sinners, showing them mercy, compassion, sympathy and acceptance, leading them to Jesus’ ways by our own exemplary lives.
2) We have no right to judge others: We have no right to judge others because we often commit the very faults we condemn, we are often partial and prejudiced in our judgments, and we do not know the circumstances which have led someone to sin. Hence, let us leave the judgment to our merciful God Who does read people’s hearts. We should show mercy and compassion to those who sin because we ourselves are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. The apostle Paul reminds us: “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” (1 Cor 11:31).
Lent V [Full Text] (April 7) Is 43:16-21; Phil 3:8-14; John 8:1-11
Homily starter anecdotes # 1: Divine mercy on Chuck Colson: Probably, Chuck Colson (Charles Chuck Wendell Colson, 1931-2012) got his evil inspiration from John Profumo to make a scandalous and serious violation of law to serve seven months in the Federal Prison, Maxwell, Alabama, for acting as President Nixon’s “hatchet man” in the Watergate Scandal. After his prison term, Colson became an Evangelical Christian leader who founded Prison Fellowship and Breakpoint. He was the founder and chairman of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, which is “a research, study, and networking center for growing in a Christian worldview.” While Colson lived, the Center’s work included Colson’s daily radio commentary, Break Point, which was heard in its original format on more than 1,400 outlets across the United States. Colson was a principal signer of the 1994 Evangelicals and Catholics Together ecumenical document. He was joined by leading Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholic leaders in the United States. Today’s Gospel describes how Jesus restored a sinful woman by lavishing on her his Divine mercy and forgiveness. She may have become Christ’s follower bearing witness to his mercy till her death. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
2) Second chance: Dr. A.J. Cronin was a great Christian physician in England. One night he assigned a young nurse to a little boy who had been brought to the hospital suffering from diphtheria and given only a slight chance to live. A tube was inserted into the boy’s throat to help him breathe. It was the nurse’s job periodically to clean out the tube. As the nurse sat beside the boy’s bed, she accidentally dozed off. She awakened to find that the tube had become blocked. Instead of following instructions, she was immobilized by panic. Hysterically she called the doctor from his home. By the time he got to the boy, he was dead. Dr. Cronin was angry beyond expression. That night Dr. Cronin went to his office and wrote his recommendation to the board demanding the immediate expulsion of the nurse. He called her in and read it, his voice trembling with anger. She stood there in pitiful silence, a tall, thin, gawky Welsh girl. She nearly fainted with shame and remorse. “Well,” asked Dr. Cronin in a harsh voice, “have you nothing to say for yourself?” There was more silence. Then she uttered this pitiful plea, “…please give me another chance.” Dr. Cronin sent her away. But he could not sleep that night. He kept hearing some words from the dark distance: “Forgive us our trespasses.” The next morning Dr. Cronin went to his desk and tore up the report. In the years that followed he watched as this slim, nervous girl became the head of a large hospital and one of the more honored nurses in England. Thank God for a second chance, and a third chance, and fourth chance! Do you need to encounter God’s forgiveness? He died on a cross to make it available
# 3: How to Clean Practically Anything — except sin! Consumers Report put out a little book entitled, How to Clean Practically Anything. The book tells you what solvent to use for nearly every kind of stain. Here are a few. Glycerin will remove the stain from a ball point pen. Boiling water will remove berry stains. Vinegar will remove crayon stains. To remove a rust stain from your cotton work clothes, moisten the spot with some full-strength vinegar and then rub in a bit of salt. Ammonia will remove blood stains. Alcohol will remove grass stains. Hydrogen peroxide is good for magic marker stains. Mix a teaspoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide with a little cream of tartar or a dab of non-gel toothpaste. Rub the paste on the stain with a soft cloth. Rinse. The stain, whatever it was, should be gone. Try a little meat tenderizer to remove protein-based stains like milk, chocolate, and blood from clothes. Use bleach on mildew stains. Lemon juice works well on rust stains. But you know what? The book lists absolutely nothing for the stain of sin. And the reason it doesn’t is because there is only One Person Who can do that. Only Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of Divine Mercy, as described in today’s Gospel, can forgive us our sins when we repent, confess our sins, and ask God’s pardon and forgiveness.
# 4: Mother Teresa on the sacrament of Divine Mercy: While Mother Teresa is certainly famous for the charity with which she poured herself out in love for Christ in the distressing disguise of lepers, AIDS victims, the dying, and the untouchables, she was likewise a great “Missionary of Mercy” in calling everyone to receive Jesus’ forgiving love in the Sacrament of Confession, a Sacrament she received at least once a week. She would counsel others, “One thing is necessary for us: Confession. Confession is nothing but humility in action. We call it Penance, but really it is a Sacrament of Love, a Sacrament of forgiveness. It is a place where I allow Jesus to take away from me everything that divides, that destroys. Confession is a beautiful act of great love. Only in confession can we go in as sinners with sin and come out as sinners without sin. … There’s no need for us to despair, no need for us to commit suicide, no need for us to be discouraged, if we have understood the tenderness of God’s love.” She said elsewhere, very simply, “Confession is Jesus and I, and nobody else.” And then she told us, “Remember this for life.”
Introduction: Reminding us of God’s readiness to forgive sin and to restore people to His friendship, today’s readings challenge us to show the same mercy to the sinners around us and to live as forgiven people, actively seeking reconciliation. Mercy and pardon are the hallmark of the Christian. The central theme of all three readings is a merciful God’s steadfast love. Both the verses of the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 126) and the reading from Paul invite us to respond to such Divine graciousness with joy and gratitude. The readings also encourage us to reflect seriously on the ultimate example of God’s compassionate love for us. They remind us that we cannot stand by self-righteously and condemn the lives of others when God is calling them tenderly to conversion. Repentance is not something we do. Rather, repentance is allowing the forgiving power of God to touch our lives and lead us along new paths. Explaining how a merciful God forgives the sins of His chosen people and leads them back from the Babylonian exile, the first reading reminds us that we too are forgiven, and that we are saved from our own sinfulness. In the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 126), the Psalmist reminds us of the joy God’s Mercy brings us when we ask for and receive His pardon. In the second reading, Paul presents himself as a forgiven sinner who has been completely transformed by his Faith in Christ Jesus. His life is an example of obedience to the Gospel exhortation, “Sin no more.” Paul loves Christ so much that he wants to share in His sufferings and even in His death so that he may share in Christ’s Resurrection. The sinful woman’s story of sin committed, and sin forgiven in today’s Gospel also shows the inexhaustible mercy and compassion Jesus grants to sinners. It invites us to recognize and experience in our lives both God’s Justice and His Mercy. We bear witness to the Justice of God by confessing our sinfulness and determining to avoid sin, and we bear witness to God’s Mercy by accepting the forgiveness of our sins and by determining to forgive those who have offended us.
First reading: Is 43: 16-21, explained: Today’s Old Testament passage comes from the part of the Book of Isaiah that celebrates the permission from Cyrus the Great (538 BC), for Israel to return to Jerusalem from its exile in Babylon. After blaming the people, through His prophet Isaiah, for the unfaithfulness that had led to their exile, the Lord God assures the Babylonian exiles that He is going to end their prophesied 70 years’ exile in Babylon. By having Isaiah remind them of how God had liberated their ancestors from their slavery in Egypt eight centuries earlier, (miraculously destroying the army of the Pharaoh and providing their food and water in the desert), the Lord God assures the exiles that He has forgiven their sins. The prophet exhorted his fellow Jews to look to the past and to remember the wondrous acts of their God all through the stages of their development as a people. He tells them He will provide for their return journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, giving them food, water and protection from wild animals in the desert. The reading gives us the message that we, too, are forgiven, and we are, with His grace, walking His Way of Salvation away from our own sinfulness and toward Heaven.
Second reading: Phil 3: 8-14, explained: Saint Paul had tried all his life to earn God’s favor by carefully keeping the Law of Moses and by zealously doing what he thought God wanted. Paul enjoyed Roman citizenship and, in addition to his knowledge of the Greek language, culture and philosophies, he had also been schooled in his Jewish heritage under an eminent rabbi (Acts 22:3). His conversion to Christ made him re-evaluate all that “as loss” and “rubbish.” Thus, Paul expresses his deep regret and repentance for having persecuted Jesus in His Church and for his own futile attempts at earning righteousness by strict observance of the Mosaic Law before his conversion. Now he understands that the only real way to righteousness is to accept it as an undeserved gift of God’s grace. Faith here means belief that Jesus Christ has won this righteousness for us. Faith also means making the honest admission that we, by ourselves, cannot keep any law well enough to earn righteousness, with the confidence that God is good enough to give it to us anyway. Paul does not renounce the moral law, but he sees the righteousness that comes through Faith in Christ as the righteousness from God. As a result, he loves Christ so much he wants to share in His sufferings, even in His death, so that he may share in Christ’s Resurrection. Just as, in the first reading, Judah is invited by a forgiving God to forget its past sins and their dreadful consequences, Paul acknowledges that the merciful Lord has unconditionally pardoned his sins against Christians. Paul regards himself as having “been taken possession of by Christ Jesus,” and as constantly striving to be ever more conformed to the pattern set by Christ.
Gospel exegesis: Text omitted by ancient manuscripts: This powerful narrative of Jesus and the accused woman is not found in the earliest and best manuscripts of John, but appears in other important manuscripts after Lk 21:38. Almost all scholars today recognize that this text was not originally part of John’s Gospel—but it was obviously such an important story from the life of Jesus that the early Christians wanted to ensure it was not lost, even if they weren’t entirely sure of where to place it. It seems to have much more in common with Luke’s Gospel, and it is very possible that it is a fragment from one of Luke’s sources. This account is undeniably rich in theological and moral significance, and in psychological and human drama. Still, early Church authors, such as Papias (ca. A.D. 120) and the author of the Syriac “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” (3rd cent.), knew of such an incident, and Jerome included it in his translation. For these reasons the story is judged canonical by Catholics. It might have been omitted in some early rigorist traditions because the early Church, in its struggle to maintain strict penitential discipline, perhaps could not deal with the ease with which Jesus forgave the woman. In this episode Jesus seemed too “soft” on sin. Perhaps for this reason, the story was temporarily set aside by the early Church and was only later granted canonical approbation.
The context and the trap: The incident happened in Jerusalem, in the precincts of the Temple where Jesus had been teaching. (“The scribes and the Pharisees” is often a stock phrase in the Gospels for “those Jews who disagreed with Jesus and opposed him.” The scribes were a group of people with particular training in Scripture and in the interpretation of Jewish law. The Pharisees were members of a lay movement that sought to extend God’s reign into every aspect of a person’s day). The scribes and Pharisees brought forward a woman caught in the act of adultery. It was a pitiful, heart-wrenching scenario, calculated to cause her ultimate shame. The Mosaic penalty for such an offense was death by stoning, although there is no evidence that this ever took place, certainly not in Roman times. Besides, Moses commanded that both partners in adultery should be stoned, not only the woman. (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). Stoning was mostly done in cases of blasphemy; such was the case with Stephen, whom we read about in the book of Acts. The Jewish civil and criminal code considered three grave sins as punishable by death, namely idolatry, murder and adultery. Deuteronomy prescribes death by strangulation for a married woman caught in adultery. If the guilty woman is betrothed, she has to be stoned. In both cases they have violated God’s sixth commandment and have destroyed the fidelity and unity of marriage. “It is a terrible thing for a sinner to fall into the hands of his fellow sinners.” (F. B. Meyer). His opponents wanted to use the occasion to embarrass Jesus, because he had the reputation of proclaiming God’s mercy toward sinners. If he insisted on following the Law exactly, his reputation as a prophet of God’s mercy would be open to question. Besides, if Jesus consented to her death by strangulation or stoning, he would be violating the Roman law, which forbade killing by private citizens. If he took the side of the adulterous woman, he was open to the charge of ignoring God’s Law and God’s Justice as given by Moses. This was the ingenious trap they had set for Jesus.
Jesus’ fair verdict: Initially, Jesus showed his lack of interest in the case by simply writing on the ground. But he was the only one in the group who could rightly judge the woman. The woman waited to hear Jesus’ verdict. She knew that she was guilty. She had passed the judgment on herself, and she accepted Jesus’ right to do the same. Perfectly understanding the secret intentions of her self-righteous accusers and the helplessness of the repentant sinner, Jesus gave his verdict: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Thus, Jesus turned the accusers’ attention back on themselves and made them realize that they, too, were sinners. St. Augustine puts Jesus’ stand as follows: “Let this woman be punished, but not by sinners; let the law be applied, but not by its transgressors.” Thus, Jesus ingeniously escaped from the trap by leaving the judgment to the consciences of the accusers. This reduced the accusers to silence, prompting them to leave in shame. According to Jewish custom, the eldest should have begun the stoning. But the accusers melted away, beginning with the elders, who, like the elders in the story of Susannah (Daniel 13), had probably brought the charge. Since the elders left scene first followed by youngsters the case against the woman was dismissed. By appealing to the Justice of God and the injustice of humans, Jesus upheld God’s mercy. The moral of the story is not that sin is of no importance, or that God does not punish sin, but that God extends mercy to repentant sinners in order that they may turn from their sins.
Judgment with a stern warning: Since Jesus knew that her sin was a violation of the sixth commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” he gave the woman the strong warning, “Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore.” Jesus did not shrink from calling her deed a sin, inappropriate and offensive to the Justice of God. He forgave the sinner, but he upheld the Justice of God by not excusing or explaining away the sin. Without minimizing her sinfulness, Jesus showed the sinner the respect she deserved as a human being, treating her with compassion. Clearly, he valued repentance and conversion more than simple reprisal. Not only did Jesus not condemn the woman, he even gave her hope for the future. Jesus is thus portrayed as a living expression of the Divine Mercy, a wise and kind judge, more concerned with forgiveness and rehabilitation than with punishment and death. St. Augustine captures this scene with his apt remark: relicti sunt duo miseria et misericordia (“There are but two left: misery and mercy”). Her story of sin committed, and sin forgiven is an example of the inexhaustible mercy and compassion shown by Jesus to sinners. When we repent and express sorrow for our sins Jesus will say “Neither will I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Jesus’ answer is somewhat ambiguous, and it is perhaps because it was considered “soft” on sexual immorality that some Christian communities might have hesitated to incorporate this particular story into their New Testaments. But Jesus does tell her “not to sin again,” which certainly implies that her behavior was, in fact, sinful; He does not excuse the fact of the sin, or deny its wrongness, but He chooses not to dwell on it, knowing that the entire experience has been more than traumatic enough.
Story of Divine mercy: God imposed the death penalty in the Old Testament for all types of serious sins: for idolatry, murder, blasphemy, using the Lord’s name in vain, profaning the Sabbath, cursing or striking father and mother, kidnapping, and several sexual sins (see Exodus 19, 21, 22, 31, 35 and Leviticus 20). The Church still teaches that there is still a “death penalty,” an eternal death penalty, associated with such grave sins. That is why we call this type of sin “mortal,” or “deadly.” When we commit such an act with knowledge and deliberate consent, we die spiritually, we commit spiritual suicide, and we cause definitive self-separation from God. When we understand why the death penalty is just for such sins, we will appreciate in its depth God’s merciful love on the Cross. Besides, God Himself revealed, especially through the Prophets Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea, and Ezekiel that every sin is an act of adultery because it is being unfaithful to the spousal covenant of love we have entered into with God (see Jer 3:20, Is 1:21, Is 57:8, Hos 2:2-5, Hos 3:1-5, Hos 9:1, Ez 16:30). Hence, the story of the woman caught in adultery helps us recognize and receive the immensity of God’s mercy. That is why Pope Francis in his first Sunday homily as Pope declared: “God never tires of forgiving us…. It’s we who tire of asking for forgiveness.” Then he prayed, “May we never tire of asking for what God never tires to give!”
Life messages: # 1: We need to become forgiving people, ready for reconciliation: Jesus has shown inexhaustible mercy and compassion to sinners by dying for our sins. But we are often self-righteous like the Pharisees, and ready to spread scandal about others with a bit of spicy gossip. We are judgmental about the unmarried mother, the alcoholic, the drug addict and the shop-lifter, ignoring Jesus’ command: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Let us learn to acknowledge our sins, ask God’s forgiveness every day and extend the same forgiveness to our erring brothers and sisters. We too should learn to hate the sin and love the sinners showing them mercy, compassion, sympathy and acceptance, leading them to Jesus’ ways by our own exemplary lives.
2) We have no right to judge others: We have no right to judge others because we often commit the very faults we condemn, we are often partial and prejudiced in our judgment and we do not know the circumstances which have led someone to sin. Hence, let us leave the judgment to our just and merciful God who reads people’s hearts. We should show mercy and compassion to those who sin because we ourselves are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. The apostle Paul reminds us: “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” (1 Cor 11:31).
JOKE OF THE WEEK: Mary’s stone: Here is an old but funny story. The Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery before Jesus for judgment and Jesus says, “Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone at her.” There is a sudden silence. But then all at once a small stone comes flying from the back of the crowd aimed at the head of the woman, and Jesus promptly catches it. Looking at the lady standing in the crowd Jesus said, “Mother! Really! I was trying to make a point, here.” The assumption is that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was immaculately conceived and hence sinless and so she was eligible to throw a stone. But if Jesus himself did not condemn the woman, why should his mother do so?
2)Pastor and Farmer: “Do you smoke, drink or curse?” The pastor asked the old farmer. It was a hesitant, “Well, every once in a while.” “You know, John, I don’t smoke, drink, or cuss…” “Yessuh, pastor, but you don’t farm either…!”
3)Gary Dearing told a story about his Air Force Colonel, who served as inspector general of his command, and paid particular attention to how personnel wore their uniforms. “On one occasion the Colonel spotted a junior airman with a violation. ‘Airman,’ he bellowed, ‘What do you do when a shirt pocket is unbuttoned?’ The startled airman replied, ‘Button it, sir!’ The Colonel looked him in the eye and said, ‘Well?’ At that, the airman nervously reached over and buttoned the Colonel’s shirt pocket.”
Websites of the Week
- Website for young adults: http://bustedhalo.com/
- Collection of Catholic Q & A; http://www.catholicqanda.com/
- Bible on your desktop: http://www.usccb.org/bible/books-of-the-bible/index.cfm
- Catholic answers: http://www.catholic.com/
- Text week homilies: http://www.textweek.com/mkjnacts/jn8.htm
19 additional anecdotes:
1) Ann Landers: Some time ago a lady wrote to the famous advice columnist Ann Landers and asked this question, “Do all men cheat on their wives? I have been suspicious of my husband for some time. I even hired a private detective to trail him, but he couldn’t come up with a thing. I went to a lawyer. He told me to grow up and accept the fact that all husbands fool around. Do they?” Ann Landers very wisely replied, “No. There are plenty of married men who never cheat, and your husband could be one of them. The only thing you can be fairly sure of is that your lawyer cheats on his wife.” Cheating on one’s wife or husband is called adultery in the Bible. It is prohibited by the Sixth Commandment.
2) The Scarlet Letter: In 1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter. Its setting was a Puritan community in Boston in early New England. Hawthorne’s novel tells the story of Hester Prynne who was forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” for “adultery” because she had given birth to an illegitimate child and refused to name the father. The child’s father was none other than the community’s minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. Hester bore the letter, the public scorn and the humiliation alone, while the minister had merely to bear the pangs of conscience. After many years the minister finally confessed his secret sin to the people and later died in peace. Hester continued to wear her letter, and went on to live like a saint bringing happiness to her disturbed illegitimate daughter and helping others in their troubles. The townsfolk said the letter stood, not for Adultery as it had done but now for Able, and a sign of honor. The Scarlet Letter has some similarities with today’s Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery.
3) John Profumo – a sinner restored: The story of John Profumo (91) (1915-2006) is that of a man who made one terrible mistake but sought his own redemption in a way which has no precedent in public life either before or since. No one in public life ever did more to atone for his sins; no one behaved with more silent dignity as his name was repeatedly dragged through the mud. Profumo’s transgression came when the Tories had been in power for 11 years. He was then a promising Secretary of State for War, married to the actress Valerie Hobson, one of Britain’s leading actresses of stage and screen in the 1940s and 1950s. But he had a secret relationship with Christine Keeler, a call-girl who had been – separately – seeing the Russian naval attaché and spy, Yevgeny Ivanov. This was at the height of the Cold War. When this matter was brought to light, Profumo made the matter worse by lying to the House of Commons. Later, he had a change of heart, went to the Prime Minister, confessed his guilt, and resigned on June 5, 1963 from the Cabinet in shame. Filled with remorse, Profumo never sought to justify himself or seek public sympathy. Instead, for the next four decades he devoted himself to Toynbee Hall, a charitable settlement at Spitalfields in the East End of London. He began by washing dishes, helping with the playgroup and collecting rents. Later he served with the charity’s council, eventually becoming its chairman and then president. From his tiny office at Toynbee Hall, Profumo kept up a ceaseless flow of letters to anyone who might be able to speak, give money or do anything to assist the charity in its work of helping the poor and down-and-outs in the East End. Largely through his efforts, Toynbee Hall became a national institution. Profumo’s dedication and dignity won him enormous admiration from people in all walks of life. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called him “one of our national heroes.” When he was sixty years old, at the 1975 Honors Party honoring distinguished citizens, Elizabeth II, the Queen of England, named John Profumo, the sinner, among the distinguished citizens of her realm. Thus he was fully restored. (“http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1512656/John-Profumo.html). Today’s Gospel describes how Jesus restored a sinful woman by lavishing on her his Divine mercy and forgiveness. She may have become Christ’s follower bearing witness to his mercy till her death.
4) Jesus and the Fallen Woman: The woman caught in adultery described in today’s Gospel has inspired a wide variety of Christian art. The most striking is Jesus and the Fallen Woman,” by Lucas Cranach, the Younger (c. 1570), now exhibited, as is Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son” in The Hermitage at St. Petersburg. At the front center of the painting are Jesus and the woman. Cranach captures that moment when Jesus turns toward the accusers and challenges those without sin to cast a stone. His expression is stern but troubled, and his right hand reaches out toward the woman. Most remarkable, the woman is not bowed to the ground in front of Jesus as in much art work, but is standing at his left. She is very young, with eyes closed, looking forlorn and resigned to her fate. Her head is inclined toward Jesus’ shoulder, and her hand rests on his arm. Most striking, as one follows the lines of the painting, is that her right hand is entwined with the left hand of Jesus in a gesture of exquisite tenderness. The hands of mercy are joined to the hands of a suffering person facing execution. Jesus and the young woman in Cranach’s painting can be our guides through Lent and Paschaltide. With heads inclined toward Christ and hands intertwined with his, we can go forward as forgiven sinners, yet called to be companions of Jesus.
5) Love and marriage are a cycle. Some time back Ann Landers received a beautiful letter from a wife in Ohio. She wrote, “My husband is a laborer. He leaves home at 7:00 AM and puts in long, hard days at work. If he can get overtime, he grabs it. When he comes home at night, he paints the house, fixes whatever is broken, and helps with the kids. At the end of the week he hands me his paycheck and apologizes because it isn’t more. He never complains when I give him ground meat in eleven different shapes. At night when he puts his arms around me and pulls me close, I feel that whatever I’ve done for him was not enough. Love and marriage are a cycle. The more you do for a man, the more he loves you. The more he loves you, the more he tries to do for you. And so it goes, round and round. It’s so simple. Why don’t more people figure it out?” One thing is sure…that lady in Ohio won’t have adultery problems; nor will anyone with a marriage of that quality. Their lifestyle follows the command of St. Paul: “Honor Christ by being servants of each other.” (Ephesians 5:21)
6) “Where was the Garden of Eden?” Dr. Carlyle Marney was asked a question by one of his freshman students one day. The student asked, “Where was Eden?” Dr. Marney put down his pen, turned to the college freshman, and replied, “I can tell you exactly, in Tennessee.” “What?” gasped the student. “Knoxville, Tennessee, 215 South Elm Street,” Marney insisted. “It was there on Elm Street, when I was a boy, that I stole a quarter out of Mama’s purse and ran to the store and bought a bag of peanut clusters and ate it as fast as I could. Afterward, I was so ashamed that I came back home to 215 Elm Street and hid in the closet. Mom found me and asked, ‘Why are you hiding? What have you done?'” [“Geography Lesson,” Herald of Holiness, February 1996, p. 2]. I personally don’t think anybody needs help locating their own Eden, do you? That’s the place where we first knowingly betrayed and disobeyed God. Our Eden is that situation or that place where we first discovered that we suffer from the same disease as Adam and Eve and every other human being in existence. We suffer from the debilitating symptoms of sin. Now, pick up a stone. Hold the stone in your hand and think about your Eden. Hold the stone in your hand and wrap that thought, that memory, that time of Eden in your life around the stone. Those moments stick with us and weigh us down and drag us down and slow us down and bring us down. But here’s the Good News. We don’t have to be weighed down by the weight of sin, God wants to lift us up. The God Jesus revealed to us is a God who patiently waits for His wayward children to come back home.
7) Guilty: Dr. Karl Menninger, well-known psychiatrist, wrote a book a few years ago entitled, Whatever Became of Sin? In it, he reported how a stern, plainly dressed man appeared on a busy corner of Chicago’s Loop. As people passed by, he would from time-to-time solemnly lift his arm and point to a passerby and say just one word; “Guilty!” Then without changing expression, he would drop his arm. After a few seconds, he would raise his arm again, and with an accusing finger pointing at another person, he would utter that one-word indictment: “Guilty!” The effect of this on the people on was extraordinary. Some stared, started to laugh, then stopped, hesitated, looked around with furtive glances, and hurried on with quickened step. One passerby turned to a companion and exclaimed, “But how did he know?” We do not have to have an eccentric street preacher pointing an accusing finger to remind us of our guilt. We have more authentic inside information. We call it conscience or God’s voice within us.
8) “Turn it over.” John R. Aurelio, in his book Colors: Stories of the Kingdom (Amazon.com), gives us a beautiful portrayal of this side of God. He writes: On the sixth day, God created Father Adam and Mother Eve. On the seventh day, as God was resting, they asked Him if He would give them something special to commemorate their birthday. So, God reached into His treasure chest and took out a sacred coin. Written on it was the word “LOVE.” On the eighth day, Father Adam and Mother Eve sinned. As they left the Garden of Eden, they asked God for an assurance that He would not abandon them. “You have the coin,” He told them. “But, the coin says LOVE,” they answered. “We have lost love. However will we find it again?” “Turn it over,” God said. On the other side of the coin was written the word “FORGIVENESS.” There is great truth in that. There is no love without forgiveness and there is no forgiveness without love. They are the two sides of the same coin. And the Good News is that God loves you no matter what you’ve done or what you’ve thought of doing. God loves you. That’s the bottom line: God loves you. And God wants each of us to turn over the coin.
9) “Christ said, ‘I don’t remember.’” In his book, A Forgiving God in an Unforgiving World, Ron Lee Davis tells the true story of a priest in the Philippines, a much-loved man of God who carried the burden of a secret sin he had committed many years ago. He had repented but still had no peace about it. In his parish was a woman who deeply loved God and who claimed to have visions in which she spoke with Christ. The priest, however, was skeptical about that. To test her he said, “The next time you speak with Christ, ask him what sin I committed while I was in the high school.” The woman agreed. A few days later the priest asked, “Well, did Christ visit you in your dreams?” “Yes, he did,” she replied. “And did you ask him what sin I committed back in high school?” “Yes.” “And what did he say?” She smiled and answered, “Christ said, ‘I don’t remember.’ “
10) “Who will cast the first stone?” There is a down-home story about a small-town veterinarian who had invented an instrument with which, he boasted, even a child could administer a capsule to a horse, no matter how unruly or reluctant the horse might be. One summer the vet went to county fair to demonstrate his new invention. They couldn’t find anyone who would permit his horse to be a part of the experiment, but they did find a mule, and soon a crowd had gathered to watch. Undaunted, the veterinarian inserted a long glass tube into the mouth of the mule, inserted a capsule in the other end, took a deep breath and put his mouth to the free end of the tube. But the mule blew first! Now that story reminds us that when we tell others what is good for them, we better be prepared to swallow the same ourselves. So, the theme of our homily today is “Who will cast the first stone?”
11)“Every Jew must die before he will commit idolatry, murder or adultery.” According Jewish law, adultery was among the most serious crimes. The Rabbi said, “Every Jew must die before he will commit idolatry, murder or adultery.” So, adultery was one of the three gravest sins. The law was quite clear on the matter. Though there were certain differences in the way the death penalty was to be carried out, yet there was no question — death was the penalty for adultery. The woman knew this. Can you get even a faint hint of the despair, the anguish, the ravaging shame, and hopelessness that gripped this wretch of a creature, this “soiled plaything of men” as they came dragging her into the presence of Jesus. And where was the man who was her partner in sin? In the Mishnah which was the code of Jewish law, it was stated that the penalty for adultery was strangulation for both man and woman. Even the method of strangulation is laid down. “The man is to be enclosed in dung up to his knees, and a soft towel set within a rough towel 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.” (Barclay, The Daily Bible Study, The Gospel of John, Vol. 2, p. 2).
12) “There it is. That’s it, my life.” In the movie, With Honors, Joe Pesci plays Simon Wilder a homeless man slowly dying from asbestos poisoning. Brendan Fraser portrays Montgomery ‘Monty’ Kessler, a student at Harvard who has reluctantly befriended Simon. In one of their conversations Simon pulls out a leather pouch and says, “There it is. That’s it, my life.” He dumps a bunch of stones out in his hand, picks up one and says, “I got this one on a beach in Bali. Best night’s sleep I ever had.” Monty asks, “You remember one night of sleep?” Simon says, “Last good one I had.” Monty then asks, “What’s that shiny white one?” “A woman. The one. The one true love. Yep, each stone tells a story that I want to remember. All I do is put them in my hand and rub them and abracadabra, I’m back there.” They walk on and Monty asks, “Tell me about the woman.” Simon says, “I can’t. I’m not holding the stone.” You know, there are a lot of stones and rocks in the Bible. There’s Peter the Rock who sank like a rock when tried to walk on water. There are the stones, which Jesus said would break into song on Palm Sunday if the people didn’t sing. There’s the stone that sealed the tomb, which was rolled away so we could see inside and see that no mere grave could hold the Son of God. There are the stones used to build the Temple. And then there are the stones you’re holding in your hand, the ones related to the passage for the day. You might call these stones, the First Stones. Let’s look at the passage for today.
13) Our spirituality and our sexuality are vitally connected. Fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness are expressions of our spirituality. Our spirituality and our sexuality are vitally connected. There is a mystery here; something more than meets the eye. Scott Peck says the sexual and spiritual parts of our personalities lie so close together that it is hardly possible to arouse one without the other. C.K. Chesterton put it this way, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” Lewis Smedes put it this way, “Nobody can go to bed with someone and leave his soul parked outside.” Back when I used to do a lot of marriage counseling, David Mace was my hero. David tells about a client who said, “My husband and I always have prayer before we make love.” “I was curious,” says David, “so I asked her what they said.” “Well,” she replies, “we relax in each other’s arms and my husband says, ‘For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.'” May their numbers increase! The vital connection between our spirituality and our sexuality is an essential link that the Church needs to help people to understand.
14) The Legend of Bagger Vance: There’s a great scene in the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance which illustrates that point. If you remember the story from a few weeks ago, Bagger Vance is about a mythical golf match in the 1930’s between golf legends Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and a hometown ace Rannulph Junuh. As a teenager, Junuh had Tiger Woods’ kind of skill and was destined to become something huge. But after a tour of duty during World War I, he came back changed and haunted. He tried to exorcise his demons through a reclusive life of alcohol and gambling. His former girlfriend persuaded him to join the match between two greats, even though he kept saying he had lost his swing. While Junuh was hitting practice balls one night, a transient caddy by the name of Bagger Vance entered his life, offered to help get him ready for the match and in the process helped him rediscover his passion both for life and for the game. In this scene Junuh had found his swing and things were going great for a while until he sliced one into the woods. As he entered the woods to find his ball, he was drawn back into the battle which had scarred his life so deeply, the battle of which he had been the only survivor. It all came crashing in on him and, as he reached to pick up his ball and call it quits, Bagger broke the spell and asked if he’d like a different club. Junuh said, “I can’t do this. You don’t understand.” Bagger says, “What I’m talking about is a game. A game that can’t be won, only played. Ain’t a soul on this earth ain’t got a burden to carry that he don’t understand. You ain’t alone in that. But you been carryin’ this one long enough. Time to go on. Lay it down.” Junuh says, “I don’t know how.” Bagger says, “You’ve got a choice. You can stop. Or you can start. Walkin’ right back to where you always been. And then stand there. Still. Real still. And remember.” Junuh says, “It’s too long ago.” Bagger says, “Oh, no sir. It was just a moment ago. Time for you to come on out the shadows, Junuh. Time for you to choose. You ain’t alone. I’m right here with ya. I’ve been here all along. Now play the game. Your game. The one that only you was meant to play. The one that was given to you when you come into this world. Strike that ball, Junuh. Don’t hold back. Give it everything. Now’s the time. Let yourself remember. Remember your swing.” Of course, it’s the movies and Junuh does. He makes a fantastic, unbelievable shot and in so doing steps out of the darkness of the shadows of his past and into the light of a New Life, as the person God created him to be. That is exactly what Jesus told this woman caught in sin – this woman used as a pawn to trap him. “It’s time for you to come on out of the shadows. It’s time for you to choose. You’re not alone. I’m right here with you. I have been here all along.” That’s what Jesus tells each of us. “It’s time to come out of the shadows and into My light. I’m right here with you and I have been all along. It’s time to walk in the light of life.” What does that mean, to walk in the light? Well, I think it means you have to let go of the past. You have to let go of the shadows and darkness. That’s the only way we can step into the light. Unfortunately, a lot of us don’t let go of the shadows. Sometimes the light seems too bright. We’re afraid to step into the light because we’re not ready to see ourselves as we really are. We’re afraid of what we’ll see and what God might see.
15) “The Selfish Giant.” Oscar Wilde’s story “The selfish Giant” has a great message. Every afternoon, the children used to go and play in the Giant’s garden. It was a large lovely garden, with soft green grass. Here and there over the grass stood beautiful flowers like stars, and there were twelve peach-trees that in the spring-time broke out into delicate blossoms of pink and pearl, and in the autumn bore rich fruit. The birds sat on the trees and sang so sweetly that the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them. “How happy we are here!” they cried to each other. One day the Giant came back. He had been to visit his friend the Cornish Ogre, and had stayed with him for seven years. When he arrived he saw the children playing in the garden. “My own garden is my own garden,” said the Giant; “and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself.” So he built a high wall all round it, and put up a notice-board. TRESPASSERS WILL BEPROSECUTED. The poor children had now nowhere to play. Then the Spring came, and all over the country there were little blossoms and little birds. Only in the garden of the Selfish Giant it was still winter. The birds did not care to sing in it as there were no children, and the trees forgot to blossom. “I cannot understand why the Spring is so late in coming,” said the Selfish Giant, as he sat at the window and looked out at his cold white garden; “I hope there will be a change in the weather.” But the Spring never came, nor the Summer. One morning, he saw a most wonderful sight. Through a little hole in the wall the children had crept in, and they were sitting in the branches of the trees. In every tree that he could see there was a little child. And the trees were so glad to have the children back again that they had covered themselves with blossoms. And the Giant’s heart melted as he looked out. “How selfish I have been!” he said. He took a great axe and knocked down the wall. Oscar Wilde’s story gives the picture of a man who has understood what he has done was wrong, and corrected himself by knocking down the walls that he has built. Today’s Gospel presents before us the picture of a woman who stood at the feet of Jesus with the realization that she had done wrong and she was ready to change her ways. Jesus’ reply to her was amazing, “Go away and don’t sin anymore.” (Fr. Bobby).
16) Doodles before stones: Writer Anne Lamott’s life is a story of resurrection — from a train wreck of booze and drugs and destructive relationships to creating, as a single mom, a loving home for her son Sam and establishing her own solid, grounded relationship with God. With humor and insight, she has written about her finding God in the joys and messes of the everyday. In her book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Lamott reflects on today’s Gospel: “In John 8, when the woman is about to be stoned by the Pharisees for adultery, we see Jesus doodling in the sand. The Pharisees, the officially good people, are acting well within the law when they condemn the woman to death. A huge crowd of people willing to kill her joins them. The Greatest Hits moment here comes when Jesus challenges the crowd: ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ But the more interesting stuff happens before, when he leaves the gathering storm, goes off by himself, and starts doodling. “Jesus refused to interact with the people on their level of hatred and madness. He draws in the sand for a time. The Gospel doesn’t say [what’s he’s drawing]. But when he finally faces the mob and responds, all the people who were going to kill the woman have disappeared.” You have to wonder: Where was the man with whom she committed adultery? Some people suggest he was in the crowd, waiting to join in with the others and kill her. We don’t know. But I can guess how the condemned woman must have felt — surprised. She was supposed to die, and her life was spared. Hope always catches us by surprise.” (Fr. Kayala).
17) “He doesn’t deserve mercy! ” The story is told of a young French soldier who deserted Napoleon’s army, but who within a matter of hours was caught by his own troops. To discourage soldiers from abandoning their posts the penalty for desertion was death. The young soldier’s mother heard what had happened and went to plead with Napoleon to spare the life of her son. Napoleon heard her plea but pointed out that because of the serious nature of the crime her son had committed he clearly did not deserve mercy. “I know he doesn’t deserve mercy” the mother answered. “It wouldn’t be mercy if he deserved it.” That’s the point about mercy: nobody deserves it. It is given freely! (Quoted by Fr. Jude Botelho).
18) Circus of judgment in the Church: I recently read a book about the circus when it traveled to small towns by train. The author described in detail the unofficial hierarchy of the traveling circus. From the ring master through various performers down to the roadies who set up the tents, everyone knew their place in the food chain. Even the freak show performers or side show acts created a system of evaluating their peers. As I read the book I couldn’t help thinking that you don’t have to join the circus to experience the cutting edge of judgment; just go to Church! We judge people by the color of their skin, the brand names of their clothes, type of car, their accent, athletic prowess, education musical ability, religious background, and the list goes on and on. Are you a tither? Do you have a daily quiet time? Do you watch R rated movies? Do you attend a Christian school or the pagan public schools? Have you ever looked at pornography? Are you Republican or Democrat? Are you Spirit-filled? Do you speak in tongues? Are you divorced? Are you one of the good-looking people, or did you get hit with the ugly stick a few times? When you face situations where the labels we place on certain people instead of the love Christ determines an outcome, how do you respond? I am not ignoring sin, nor does this story suggest that we ignore sin and its damaging effects upon people’s lives, but the Scripture does teach that using other people as a stepping stone is offensive to a holy God. The most offensive sin described in this story is not the adultery; it is the malice, arrogance, and ignorance of the Pharisees to use the sin, of another person for personal gain while ignoring the sin that resides in their own heart. The voice of the critic seeks to condemn you by exploiting and exposing all your failures. In contrast, the voice of Christ confronts our sin with love and provides a better way to live. (Rev. Steve Andrews).
19) A terrifying moment: On March 22, 1824 an incident took place in Madison County, Indiana, which came to be known as the Fall Creek Massacre. Six white men murdered nine Seneca and Miami Indians and wounded another. Among the nine dead were three women and four children. The six men were apprehended and tried and some were executed. One of the men named John Bridge Jr. was sentenced to death by hanging for his part in the massacre. He was to be executed on June 3, 1825. His father, John Bridge Sr. and another man named Andrew Sawyer, who was John Bridge Jr.’s uncle, were also to be executed that day. John Bridge, Jr., along with a large crowd, witnessed the hangings of his father and uncle as the crowd waited expectantly for a pardon from the governor. With no sign of a pardon, a sermon was preached as the crowd waited expectantly. Finally, John Bridge, Jr. was led to the gallows and the rope was lowered over his head. But as the men waited for a signal, a cheer arose from the back of the crowd. A stranger rode forward and looked the condemned man in the face. “Sir, do you know in whose presence you stand?” Bridge shook his head. “There are but two powers known to the law that can save you from hanging by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead; one is the great God of the Universe, the other is J. Brown Ray, Governor of the State of Indiana; the latter stands before you…” Handing over the written pardon, the governor announced, “you are pardoned.” In an instant, what had looked like a hopeless situation became a door of hope. John Bridge Jr. went back home, settled down, opened a dry goods store and died peacefully, fifty-one years later! I told that story to ask this question: Can you imagine the fear that must have gripped the heart of that young man as he watched his father and his uncle die, knowing that he was next. Can you imagine the terror as he was led onto the gallows and that noose was placed around his neck? It must have been a moment of terror like few have ever experienced! (The Sermon Notebook). But, I know one person who experienced that feeling. This poor sinful woman whose story is related in this text, she knew that kind of fear. As she is led trembling into the presence of Jesus, she knows in her heart that she is about to die a horrible death by stoning.
20) Story of the “Selifish Giant”: Oscar Wilde’s story “The selfish Giant” has a great message. Every afternoon, the children used to go and play in the Giant’s garden. It was a large lovely garden, with soft green grass. Here and there over the grass stood beautiful flowers like stars, and there were twelve peach-trees that in the spring-time broke out into delicate blossoms of pink and pearl, and in the autumn bore rich fruit. The birds sat on the trees and sang so sweetly that the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them. “How happy we are here!” they cried to each other. One day the Giant came back. He had been to visit his friend the Cornish ogre and had stayed with him for seven years. When he arrived, he saw the children playing in the garden. “My own garden is my own garden,” said the Giant; “and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself.” So, he built a high wall all round it, and put up a notice-board. TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED. The poor children had now nowhere to play. Then the Spring came, and all over the country there were little blossoms and little birds. Only in the garden of the Selfish Giant it was still winter. The birds did not care to sing in it as there were no children, and the trees forgot to blossom. “I cannot understand why the Spring is so late in coming,” said the Selfish Giant, as he sat at the window and looked out at his cold white garden; “I hope there will be a change in the weather.” But the Spring never came, nor the Summer. One morning, he saw a most wonderful sight. Through a little hole in the wall the children had crept in, and they were sitting in the branches of the trees. In every tree that he could see there was a little child. And the trees were so glad to have the children back again that they had covered themselves with blossoms. And the Giant’s heart melted as he looked out. “How selfish I have been!” he said. He took a great axe and knocked down the wall. Oscar Wilde’s story gives the picture of a man who has understood what he has done was wrong and corrected himself by knocking down the walls that he has built. Today’s Gospel presents before us the picture of a woman who stood at the feet of Jesus with the realization that she had done wrong and she was ready to change her ways. Jesus’ reply to her was amazing, “Go away and don’t sin anymore.” (Fr. Bobby Jose).
During this Lent.
Give up complaining…..focus on gratitude.
Give up pessimism…become an optimist.
Give up harsh judgments...think kind thoughts.
Give up worry……trust Divine Providence.
Give up discouragement…..be full of hope.
Give up bitterness……turn to forgiveness.
Give up hatred.….return good for evil.
Give up negativism.….be positive.
Give up anger……be more patient.
Give up pettiness…..become more mature.
Give up gloom…..enjoy the beauty that is all around you.
Give up jealousy.…pray for trust.
Give up gossiping…..control your tongue.
Give up sin…..turn to virtue.
Give up giving up….hang in there !!!!! (L/19)
“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle C (No. 19) by Fr. Tony: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit this website: http://frtonyshomilies.com/for missed or previous Cycle B homilies, 141 Year of Faith “Adult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 197 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at email@example.com. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily.
Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.