Reflection for the 5th Sunday of Lent (Year C)
Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
There is no dispute that we all are sinners without exception. For instance, the two Psalms of David (14:2-3; 53:2-3) tell us that God looked from heaven on the children of men to see if anyone understands. The Psalms further respond that all have gone astray, not a good person is left. St. Paul adds to this when he says: “All have sinned and have come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
While it is easy for most of us to admit guilt in our actions and reactions, some righteous people inwardly believe that others are more sinful than them and deserve outright punishment. This is because they regard their wrongdoing as mistakes, not sin, forgetting that all wrongdoing is sin (1 John 5:17).
The Gospel of John (8:1-11) tells us how the Scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus to test him with the pretext that he should, as a teacher, validate the law of Moses that commanded such a person die by stoning.
The idea was to make Jesus go contrary to his mission of saving sinners and not to condemn them (John 3:17) if he validates the stoning. But, on the other hand, they intend to fault him as disobedient to the law of Moses if he stops them. Note that they did not even fulfill Moses’ law, which commands the punishment of both the adulterer and adulteress (Deut. 22:-22).
But the response of Jesus to their quest was unimaginable. First, he silently wrote on the ground, the first and the last time he would scribble. Then, surprisingly, those religious juggernauts started to leave the scene one after another, starting from the eldest to the least until Jesus was left alone with the woman.
Caught in the very Act (Part 2)
The woman was caught in the act of adultery by the Scribes and the Pharisees, but Jesus also caught them in their very act of wicked trick, bad judgment, and condemnation.
When Jesus was writing on the ground, he was catching the hidden sins of every one of them, starting with the eldest. So it could be that they all commit the same sin, and the only thing that made them different from the woman was that they have never been caught.
Being caught by man is not what makes us sinners; it is the wrongdoing that God sees even in the darkest corner of the earth. Therefore, nothing is hidden from God, even the slightest evil in our hearts, and to Him, we must give the true account of our lives (Hebrews 4:13).
The Gift of a New Beginning
Everyone has a past. Some are good, others are bad, and even ugly, but there is nothing about the past you can change, no matter how you try. So God speaking through the prophet Isaiah in the First Reading (Isaiah 43:16-21), says, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!”
A new beginning is a divine gift to those ready to drop the things of the past. Those Scribes and Pharisees shamefully went away after failing to condemn the woman caught in adultery and faulting Jesus. Jesus asked the woman, “Has no one condemned you” and she said no. Then Jesus said, “neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on do not sin anymore”.
“Go and sin no more” is another way of saying, “leave the past things and start afresh!”. We all need a fresh start, but that would come after breaking away from the past. The new thing God is doing would remain unattainable if we are still holding unto the past.
Moving Forward: Dying to Self and Stoning our Sins
The easiest way to know your greatest enemy is to look into a mirror. Of course, what you see tells you what to address in your life. The hardest work is indeed working on oneself, and it is at the same time the most beneficial thing to do.
In the Second Reading today (Phil. 3:8-14), St. Paul encouraged the dying to self by counting all things as rubbish that we may gain Christ and be found by him. Dying to self would mean starting from ourselves and not other people like the Scribes and the Pharisees, who believe catching sinners would potentially increase their righteousness.
When we start with ourselves, it becomes clear that we need to begin the project of stoning sins, not sinners. This last Sunday before the passion week affords us an important opportunity for self-examination.
Let us spend more time examining our lives and interrogating our spiritual growth than judging and casting stones on others because of the illusion of being more righteous than them.
Jesus did not just speak to the woman caught in the very act; he is also talking to all of us because he sees us each time we sin. “go and sin no more!”
God bless you.