Fifth Sunday of Lent – Year C

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George F. Riley, O.S.A.
Saint Thomas Monastery
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Is 43:16-21
Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Phil 3:8-14
Jn 8:1-11

Today’s gospel finds Christ writing in the dust. This is the only time that Christ writes.

Perhaps it was a “love letter in the sand” that Christ wrote, because in his very gentle way he forced the accusers to look at themselves first and ask themselves that all-important question, “Am I without sin myself so that I should throw the first stone?”

Today, my friends, with the thought of our gospel, we are going to discuss the four Rs: four Rs that are essential to the Christian life, four Rs which, like so many important values, are often taken for granted.

The first R is that of reconciliation – R with our God – R with our neighbor – R with ourselves. In the book of Genesis God tells the Jews, “You shall be my peculiar people and I will be your God.” Unfortunately, as we look back across the bitter span of history, we see in the history of Israel an inveterate tendency not to keep the faith with God, but to ignore him, to shun him, even to drift away from him. But the gospel is the glad tidings of great joy, a true message of reconciliation. We were reconciled by Christ. St. Peter says, “You are a purchasedpeople.” Purchased by the very life of one person, and that person is Jesus Christ through whom we were all reconciled to God as his special and unique adopted sons.

The second R is that of rebirth. We recall the encounter of Jesus Christ and Nicodemus, when Christ said, “Unless a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven.” But Nicodemus objected, saying it was impossible for a man to enter a second time into the womb of his mother. Christ, of course, was speaking of Baptism, by which, as Augustine says, “We become not only Christians but Christ himself.”

Yes, the acceptance of Baptism requires sacrifice, maturity, responsibility, and real authentic love. This new creation is not a static one, but rather dynamic and ever-growing. The gospel stories delineate for us how the Christian life demands growth: the weeds and the wheat, the mustard seed, the vinedresser and the vine; indeed, even the cursed fig tree reminds us that growth is not optional.

The third R is for repentance. We contradict God not only by our speech but also in our life, in our hopeless quest for independence from God, in our pointless pretense to be more than we are. God is only too willing to forgive the sinner. The book of Isaiah explicitly declares, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white. Though they be red as crimson, the shall be white as wool.” Actually, penance simply means a change of heart. Life is a succession of changes. The grace of Christ enables us to make the appropriate changes and proper choices in our lives.

The fourth R is for resurrection. In the words of William Faulkner, “The resurrection assures us that man will not merely endure, he will prevail.” As Christians we too must walk the Via Dolorosa – the way of the Cross. But as we walk, we hard Christ’s words: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me shall live forever.”

Think of the woman’s shame, think of her embarrassment, think of her despair. Think of Christ’s merciful compassion, think of his insistence on justice: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” So is it with us. Christ commands that we turn away from sin, repent, and believe in the Good News. He reconciles us to the Father by his death, and promises us a share in his resurrection. And in his command, in his death, and in his promise, we are reborn, set free from the rubbish of our worldly allegiances and the hollow pursuit of self- righteousness, set free to answer our upward calling in Christ, so that one day, one eternal day, we may say with Paul, “I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.”