The Fifth Sunday of Lent C: Mar. 25, 2007

Isaiah 43:16-21
Philippians 3:8-14
John 8:1-11

Dear Jesus,

We are nearing the end. Another Lent draws to a close. I remember the enthusiasm I felt on Ash Wednesday when you invited me to go into the desert with you to fast and pray and give of myself. Memories of Lents past always crop up as I feel the smudge being applied to my forehead. And I wonder if this Lent will be different. Will this be the beginning of something new? Will I re-find that initial fervor I felt when I first heard your call? Will that elation that washed over me when I took those initial steps in your footprints be rekindled?

Perhaps Lent isn’t about stirring up initial fervor. Initial attitudes tend to be naïve. They are untried. Initial fervor can flair up like a flashfire only to fade and smolder like embers on a hearth. As this Lent moves into Passiontide, dying and rising is on my mind, dying to what was and rising to what will be. God does something new with the soul’s aridity. In the desert I make a way; in the wasteland, rivers. Winters of discontent are made glorious by your visitation if I let you enter and deliver me.

Lent is about dying to sin and all that separates us from the love of God. Put positively, isn’t Lent more about finding the strength to press on toward union with you in your suffering, in the pouring out of self in loving service even to the point of death, death on the Cross? God is calling me through death to newness of life in you, life that will never know death again.

Lent is about finding freedom, isn’t it? I can be burdened by the remembrance of sins past. I can be burdened by others’ judgment and condemnation. Part of Lent can be about embracing and accepting the past and its judgments but bringing those to you, not to have the reality of sin denied but to have condemnations lifted when you invite me to continue walking with you and not sin anymore.

I think of the woman in this Sunday’s gospel. What waves of humiliation must have enveloped her as she was thrust before you. She must have wanted to stop her ears against the venomous words hurled at her: This woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery! Outrage must have surged in her and burned like regurgitated bile. If she was caught in the very act of committing adultery, where is her partner in crime? One cannot commit adultery alone. Did that rage strengthen her and help her find the strength to refuse to cringe and cower in a heap but rather to stand in dignity before her accusers? She doesn’t protest her innocence. She does not beg for mercy. She stands in silence and waits for the first blow of the prescribed punishment for her sin.

Who is this gospel moment really about? No doubt the woman is there before you. But there is a judgmental crowd gathered, too. Is this incident a grace moment for each and all of them? Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her! How long were you on your knees tracing your finger in the sand? How long did it take the crowd to be enlightened and one by one slink away? We talk about aha moments. Is that what it was for that crowd? Did they leave abashed? Or did they leave enlightened? Did they leave angered or stirred to compassion by the realization that committing sin is part of the human condition. But because of you no one has to stay in that condition. What is new is the opportunity leave sin behind and walk on the in the sea and a path in the mighty waters that the Lord opens.

If in that time that you stooped and drew in the sand, the realizations of common sin opened the way to compassion that there was a miracle of grace. The word compassion means to suffer with. It means to live through another’s suffering as your own. Is Lent a time for a communal awaking? The Church makes this Lenten journey just as does each individual believer. Does the confronting of our common sinfulness offer the Church the grace of realizing the responsibility of being a refuge for sinners? Does this moment of waiting, while you trace in the sands, give the Church the opportunity to reject the condemning attitudes that judge individuals to be sinners and therefore unworthy to approach the Table? Sin is a reality. But if the Church learns from your example, then she will always be about entering into the suffering of the sinner even as she invites the sinner to Go, and from now on do not sin any more.

Give me the courage to finish this journey. Help me to walk with you in the way of Passion and compassion. May I feel the freedom of the children of God born again in you as you invite me to remember not the things of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new!



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