The Fifth Sunday of Lent
The Book of Isaiah supplies the first reading for this weekend in Lent. The reading is from the second part of Isaiah, written at a time that was hardly the best period in the history of God’s people.
The people had survived being exiled after they or their parents or grandparents had experienced the conquest of the Hebrew kingdoms by the Babylonians. Exile was punishment, bitter and bad in every respect.
By no means was all well when they returned to the homeland. It was not overflowing with milk and honey. To the contrary, it was lifeless and absent of yield. This condition easily prompted people to be cynical and to deny that God cared for them, even inviting doubts that God truly existed.
With great power and clarity, this section of Isaiah insisted that God will make all right. He is almighty. He will not forsake the people. He will cause rivers of life-giving water to flow into their hearts and minds.
For the second reading, the Church presents a passage from the Epistle to the Philippians. Christians of Philippi had this in common with Christians living in every other major city of the Roman Empire: they were a minority by comparison, and their devotion to Christ required of them a lifestyle and way of thinking utterly opposite the culture. Furthermore, official, political hostility surrounded them.
So, this epistle, as the other epistles, encouraged but also challenged these Christians. It is eloquent in its message, using the imagery of racing. Paul says that he had not yet finished the race, but he had his eyes on one sight alone, namely the finish line. When he crossed this line, in other words when he died an earthly death, he would win the race because he would enter life everlasting.
For its third reading this weekend, the Church gives us a selection from John’s Gospel. John’s Gospel is a literary gem. It tells its version of the life and teaching of Jesus with remarkable brilliance and appeal. Important to this appeal is the Gospel’s clarity and pathos.
Certainly, such is the case in this reading. The danger before the woman, and the mercy of God in Christ, are very evident.
By way of explanation, the woman had been caught in the act of adultery. Jewish law and custom were very hard on adulterers; not to victimize women, but rather to secure the racial integrity of the people who were chosen to be God’s special people. If an adulterous woman gave birth to a child, conceived outside her marriage, then fraud well might taint the family’s line of descent if true fatherhood was unknown, and the genuine identity of the offspring might not be guaranteed. Finally, the commandment would be broken.
Opponents hoped to discredit Jesus. By showing mercy to the woman, they would have said that Jesus disregarded or minimized the Commandments revealed to Moses, belittling ancient Jewish custom that adhered to the Commandments.
Bypassing the trap, Jesus boldly came to the woman’s rescue by forgiving her but upholding the sinfulness of adultery by admonishing her not to sin again.
These readings appear as the cries of the Ukrainian people ring in our ears. Their suffering resulted from human decision-making, as does all rejection of God and of God’s law, with its inevitable product of death, guilt, grief and fear.
This story of the adulterous woman is a superb lesson for everyone. Jesus told the crowd ready to execute the woman that everyone can decide to ignore God, but reap the consequences, but another way is available.
Two weeks of Lent remain, enough time for us to find this way to life and peace, the Lord’s gifts, but gifts that we must choose to accept.
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.