Fifth Sunday of Lent – Year C

Stephen J. Baker, O.S.A.
Villanova University

Isa 43: 16-21
Ps 126: 1-2, 2.3, 4-5, 6
Phil 3: 8-14
John 8: 1-11

On this 5th Sunday of Lent, we hear a very familiar story in the gospel of John, known to us as “the woman caught in adultery.” The first thing that comes to mind might be that Jesus is the victim of a trap by the religious leaders. They think they have him right where they want him – in a quandary from which he cannot escape. If he says to spare the life of this woman, then he has gone against the Law. If he says that the woman should be condemned and suffer the penalty of death by stoning, then he betrays his own message of forgiveness and mercy. We know what happens next. Jesus challenges the woman’s accusers that if they are without sin, then, by all means, throw the stone at her. One by one, they begin to walk away, frustrated that they were not able to accomplish their task of bringing a charge against Jesus. Jesus stands alone with the woman, and tells her that he does not condemn her and charges her to go her way and avoid this sin in the future.

In this Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, I have tried to look at our Sunday scriptures through this lens of God’s mercy. I try to place myself in the place of the characters in our gospel stories. How does God’s mercy impact me in my daily life as a follower of Jesus? Sometimes, I may find myself in the center of the circle as this woman found herself. Sometimes, I may experience the condemnation or ridicule of others because of my bad choices or my sinful behavior. My sin is real, my choices destructive either to others or to myself. But Jesus offers me the forgiveness and mercy of God. Jesus does not condone my sin, but says to me in His mercy that sin is not the last word. I can start anew; I can begin again! Even though I may not experience the forgiveness of others, despite my sorrow or contrition, Jesus will always pour out his compassion and forgiveness to me. My response to this forgiveness is to change my behavior, to rid myself of sin, and to walk in the light of Christ!

There are other times when I am not in the center of the circle, but on the outside, holding the stones of condemnation and judgment toward others. Despite one’s contrition and sorrow for his/her offense, I refuse to forgive, I throw my arm back, ready to hurl the stones of punishment and condemnation in payment for their sins. I forget or disregard the voice of the Jesus who has forgiven me, the voice of the Jesus who now desires to forgive the one who is now in the center of the circle. Do they not also desire the mercy of Jesus that I desire? Why can’t I accept that Jesus wants to forgive them, too?

The tremendous and awesome gift of God’s Mercy, is given to us not because we deserve it, but because we are loved! As we continue to make our sojourn through these Lenten days, we give thanks for the mercy of God so freely poured out upon us, and we step out of the circle, drop the stones clenched in our hands, so that God may shower this gift of mercy upon others!