Now I have decided to revive my blog – I’ve been asked by the students here in Manchester to put some of my homilies online – This was one from 5th week of Lent
Todays Gospel is a gem that is given to us to as something to savour in Lent. The woman caught in adultery is a masterpiece in Johns Gospel that displays mystery of God’s mercy against the backdrop of the corruption of the temple. Mercy is the most amazing attribute of God – Mercy is the name of God himself – it is the face by which God reveals himself in the Old Testament and it is at the core of the Gospel message. Pope Francis believes we are in a special time – a Kairos – of God’s mercy – and so has dedicated this as a special year. So in this extraordinary year of mercy its worth meditating this week on this key story of Jesus’s Mercy – Jesus who is the incarnation of God’s redemptive and creative love .
Today’s Gospel is about the women who is caught in adultery but really about the scribes and the Pharisees who are caught in hypocrisy….. The women has been caught in the act of adultery – lets pause for a moment and think about what that actually means – this must have been a trap – they have been waiting and carefully looking – they have suspected this is going to happen and rather than trying to stop it they have allowed it to happen so that they could ‘catch her’ – what about the man involved? Why is he not pulled out to be judged too? It all seems a bit one-sided. This is being done to attack and humiliate the woman … notice how they drag her out make her stand in the middle of the crowd – this is humiliating.
Using Moses law in this way – to humiliate her and judge her – is already an abuse of God’s Law – which is meant to free us not trap us. However the scribes and the Pharisees here are trying to use the law to hurt her and also to trap Jesus … They realise that when they ask him what to do they are boxing him in – if Jesus says ‘let her go’ then they can criticise him saying ‘ he doesn’t love the law’ if he says stone her – they can say look how cruel and rigid he is…. It seems that Jesus can’t win.
However this allows Jesus to show the wisdom of Solomon – to demonstrate to the people that he has the wisdom and compassion of a Just King – that he is fulfilling the messianic longing and expectation that they have. Look at what he does – crouching and writing in the dust – we don’t know what he is writing… but it may be significant that he is writing in the dust. We remember that tradition has is that the Law of Moses was written in stone – but the Psalmists and the Prophets talk about writing the law of God on our hearts – We remember Jesus words at another point in the Gospels : The law was made man not man for the Law – so that his desire is that we embody the law through how we live – how we love and most importantly how we forgive…. Not using its rigidity to hurt and stone each other with. Also lets remember we are in Lent and cast our minds back to how we began – on Ash Weds – from dust you came and to dust you will return….. so by writing in the dust Jesus is reminding us that our life is temporary, but how we act now is what will be looked at in the final reckoning – and our judgments always need to be made in that context.
Notice that Jesus is not relativising adultery – it is a sin that has grave consequences – it can rip families apart, betraying the ones we love the most – causing generations of pain and hurt. However Jesus is displaying great wisdom here – not being trapped – but reflecting God’s infinite mercy.
The desire to humiliate dressed up as a desire for justice – in the Pharisees and the Scribes is all too human – and do we know it. Just look at the re-emergence of the phenomenon of public shaming on the internet ….. but in the face of this human small mindedness – the mercy that Jesus shows is divine…. And we are called to share in the work of God and become more merciful.
What stops us from being merciful is when we refuse to be honest about our own sinfulness, we don’t encounter the mercy of God anymore, our hearts become hard and we become corrupt. It is when we are aware of our own sinfulness – and even more that God loves us – that we can become merciful to others. It’s something we need to practice – the more we face up to our sinfulness and brokenness, the more we can experience Gods loving mercy, especially in confession and the more we can forgive and be merciful – it is a virtuous circle. But as we know it so easy to focus on other people’s sins – it’s a form of displacement – so that we feel better about ourselves – especially when we gossip – and we become desensitized and forgot that experience of Gods mercy and that’s when we become corrupt
If we are honest – a lot of us can become like the elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son – who complains in the face of the fathers joy and generosity. The elder son is human – but the mercy of the Father is divine. God goes beyond justice to a higher event which leads to a healing encounter with his love and mercy. Let us be honest this lent about our need for God’s mercy – remember we have confessions every day from 12- 1.00….