In this excellent homily for 5th Sunday of Lent, Year C, Father Hanly teaches us about forgiveness.
Readings for Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C
- First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
- Second Reading: Philippians 3:8-14
- Gospel: John 8:1-11
This is a wonderful gospel. A story so simple and direct, written by St. John the Apostle, who, in a few words, teaches us many lessons about the one theme: “forgiveness.”
In the story, John wants us to put ourselves not in the shoes of Jesus but in the shoes of the woman taken in adultery, the poor lady who stumbled and got lost along the way, and was dragged into the temple and thrown to the ground in front of Jesus, by some Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses
This was a Jewish lady brought up as a child to respect the Law of Moses. That law was at the very heart of everything that she as a girl believed in and followed. She, too, was a descendent of Father Abraham, and here she found herself in this angry mob.
And what hope had she? The Law must be obeyed for it came, not only from Moses, but from God himself.
And so the Pharisees said to Jesus, “What do you say?”
And Jesus was silent.
More to the point: what are we supposed to do?
If we claim to be Christians, we must forgive.
But on whose authority? By what right do we forgive this woman?
How can we forgive her, and this is the point of the gospel, for the woman is us.
We, too, are believers. We, too, go astray very quickly. We, too, turn away from the goodness and loveliness of God himself. We, too, are worthy to be brought before a tribunal, to be judged for our sins and found guilty for what we have done.
And we have no response but to say, “Forgive me Father for I have sinned…”
In our Mass today, at the very beginning, we acknowledged first our own need for forgiveness when we said, “I confess to Almighty God that I have sinned, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…”
St Francis of Assisi used to say, “Of all the sinners, I am the worst,” because he’s the only one who can look and search the depths of his own heart and find the many ways he refused to love enough and care enough, the many ways he was ungrateful and unkind. And he himself would be the first to admit it.
And they would say to him, “Francis, Francis, stop that, everybody knows you’re a holy man.”
And Francis would say to them, “What I say is the truth. I cannot see into the hearts of others, but I can look into my own, and I know that without the forgiveness and mercy and grace of God I would be lost forever.”
That’s a very good thing to remember
The second very lovely touch in this story is this…
Jesus knows that he’s being put on trial by his enemies, who want to report him to the religious authorities as breaking the law.
He also knows the rule is clear that that a woman caught in adultery should be stoned to death.
And yet, in all the history of Israel, and they write their history down very carefully, people died of many, many things, some natural, some violent, but it has never once been recorded in that long history that a woman taken in adultery was ever stoned to death by anyone.
These are cautionary tales, handed down to make us understand, which we can understand today, that marriage vows are sacred and not to be broken.
It is like when Jesus says when we do wrong and we hurt children and lead them astray that a millstone should be tied around our necks and we should be thrown into the sea. He’s not speaking literally but figuratively about how terrible it is to lead innocent children into sin.
And what is Jesus saying?
He’s saying, “Be careful of how you treat each other.” We should be careful of other people. We should recognise our own need for forgiveness first, and then reach out to forgive others.
The nice part is when Jesus rises and he says to the men, when they ask that question, what he thinks of the situation, the nice thing was his words, and his words would live for ever:
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
And then he kneels down again and he’s very quiet and one by one the men walk away, dropping their stones behind them.
And all of a sudden, they’re caught again, surprised, and we must remember that in a crowd it took great courage of many of those men to turn away because they were turning away when they thought it was decent and true and preserving the fidelity of the Israeli people.
They walked away ashamed knowing, yes, it must be done, but not by me, because I, too, have sinned, and the only thing that I can do is ask for forgiveness and then I will go out and forgive others.
The final little bit is my favourite part.
There’s nobody left. And Jesus rises up again and he looks at the lady and he says these words,
“Woman.” He calls her “woman.” The last time we heard “woman” was Jesus talking to his mother at the marriage feast of Cana.
And he says to this lady,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
The last little bit between Jesus and the lady you must think over and recognize that God is a God of love, a God of forgiveness, a God of reaching out, a God of caring, and a God that we learn to love, not because of his power and might, and we learn to love him because he’s weak.
And what is God’s weakness?
We are his children and he cannot help but love us all the time.