30 March 2009

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Gospel, John 8:1-11

In today’s Gospel at Mass is the familiar story of the scribes and Pharisees bringing a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery.

The scribes and Pharisees are likely more interested in catching Jesus off-guard, attempting to make Him appear to be an enemy of the Mosaic Law, more than they are interested in punishing the woman. In fact, they are quick to point out to Jesus that in the law Moses commanded such women to be stoned.

After they state their case, what follows is a question in which they hope will entrap Jesus: “So what do You say?”

Saint John tells us that “Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with His Finger.” No one knows what He wrote but there is an interesting verse in Jeremiah which states: “O Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake You shall be confounded; they that depart from You shall be written in the earth” (Jeremiah 17:13). If Jesus was doing exactly that, no one knows for certain; but there is perhaps another message from Jesus in the act of writing with His Finger. The Scriptures tell us that the stone tablets given to Moses were “written with the Finger of God” (cf. Exodus 31:18).

Thus in the mystery of Christ, the scribes and Pharisees are grilling the One Who conceived the Law, the One Who wrote the Law. What follows next are our Lord’s words: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then Jesus bent down again and continued writing on the ground as the accusers departed one by one.

What happened here? Why did they all leave? Was it what Jesus wrote on the ground? Was it His words? Was there some sort of mysterious, unspoken divine communication triggered by Christ’s Finger, the Finger of God? Or was it a combination of all three? Something made these men realize that along with this woman, they too were breakers of the law.

Perhaps there is also a message about repentance in this Gospel text. The woman who was accused did not depart from Jesus. She stayed with Him as if to wait on His verdict. But what she received was not His judgment, but His mercy. He dismissed her with the words: “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

When we go to the Sacrament of Penance there has to be the resolve to sin no more. There’s a choice before us as Catholics, go to Confession and receive our Lord’s mercy; or don’t go and hope for His mercy instead of His judgment.

In today’s Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours, Saint John Fisher tells us that our Lord’s Sacrifice is eternal. Thus, it can be applied in a moment of time even before the Sacrifice occurred in a moment of time. Such is the case in today’s Gospel. The sacrificial Blood of Jesus washes away the sins of the woman caught in adultery.

But, as Saint John Fisher writes: “A share in this holy, eternal Sacrifice is given to all who have undertaken true contrition and penance for their sins, who have made a definite resolve not to repeat their faults for the future but to persevere steadfastly in the pursuit of virtue.”

We cannot depart from Jesus like the scribes and Pharisees did in today’s Gospel. We must approach Him to receive His mercy -- approach Him in the Sacrament of Penance.