The readings for this Sunday are full of a spirit of rejoicing in the great things that the Lord has done for his people. The Responsorial Psalm sums up this theme with these words: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” Reflecting on how the Lord brought the people of Israel back to their homeland after they had been in exile, the psalmist says, “When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing.”
The first reading also describes the powerful saving action of God. He “opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters.” He makes a way in the desert and makes rivers flow in the wasteland. He conquers powerful armies who come against his people. The Lord does all this, he says, “for the people whom I formed for myself, that they might announce my praise.” He wants all of us to come home to him, and so he removes all the obstacles which stand in our way.
This is the kind of God we have: he wants to gather us to himself and he is ready to do anything to make that happen! The greatest act of his saving mercy was sending his own Son to live among us and suffer and die to redeem us. St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Philippians that knowing Jesus is the “supreme good.” Paul is so convinced of the overwhelming benefit of knowing Christ and being “found in him” that in comparison he considers all else as “so much rubbish.” We recall that Paul was a man with many gifts. Very intelligent and well-educated, he had reached a position of power and influence in his community. Yet none of this means anything to him now that he has found Christ. He is more than happy to give up everything else to pursue his goal of being one with Christ.
As God’s people, we should always be rejoicing in his goodness and mercy, knowing that we are saved and redeemed by his great power, not by our own efforts. However, we see in the Gospel that not everyone thinks this way. The scribes and Pharisees are not thinking of God’s mercy when they bring before Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They are setting themselves up as judges, ready to condemn her for her sin, and using her to trap Jesus. And they are doing this in the temple area – which should be a place to honor and worship God, not a place for manipulation, self-righteousness and condemnation.
If we pay careful attention to Jesus’ words and actions in this Gospel, we notice that he does not deny or minimize the woman’s sin. He does not argue that what she has done is not sinful, or that it is not really so serious. This contrasts sharply with how the world views sin. There is a general attitude in today’s society that minimizes the reality of sin. Grave evils like rape and murder are condemned, but adultery, fornication, blasphemy, lying, greed, lust, gluttony, pride, and so many other sinful actions are considered acceptable, as long as no one gets hurt. Jesus, in contrast, does not accept adultery; in the end he counsels the woman not to do it anymore.
What was Jesus writing on the ground? We do not know, but perhaps he was writing the sins of which the woman’s accusers were guilty of, sins which were just as serious as hers, and just as deserving of severe punishment. In his silence, he was probing their consciences, asking them to consider what their own situation would be if they would be judged by the same standard by which they were judging the woman. Jesus is not only saving the woman from these men, he is also saving the men from their own sins, and from the damage they are doing to themselves.
God does everything he can to save us, but we have our own part to play. We have to acknowledge that our sin is serious and has serious consequences, and that we are not able to save ourselves. This is the journey that we have been taking during this season of Lent. Once we have awakened to our real situation, we are in a position to cry out for a Savior, and to rejoice exceedingly when we come to know that we have that Savior in Jesus! He knows our sin, but he does not condemn us for it. In fact, his response to our sin is to take it upon himself, and suffer its consequences himself. This is mercy! This is what we celebrate especially on Good Friday.
When we know this love and mercy, truly know it deeply in our hearts, then we can say with Paul that nothing in the world can compare with the goodness of knowing Jesus and being found in him. And we know that, as Jesus has not judged us but has shown us mercy, so we are to act towards others, not denying or minimizing sin, but always reaching out to our fellow sinners with his compassion and mercy.
How do I think God looks at my sin? Can I accept that I do sin? Am I willing to accept God’s forgiveness and forgive myself and strive to sin no more?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.