5th 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 not the best period in the history of God’s people.
The people had been rescued from exile. They, or their parents or grandparents, had survived the conquest of the Hebrew kingdoms by the Babylonians, the conquest that led to the exile.
By no means was all well, however. The land was not overflowing with milk and honey. To the contrary, it was lifeless and absent of yield. This starkness easily prompted people to be cynical and to deny that God cared for the people, the tendency even to say that God did not exist.
With great power and clarity, this section of Isaiah insists 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 through the arid land.
For the second reading, the Church presents a passage from the Epistle to the Philippians. The Christians of Philippi had this in common with Christians living in every other major city of the Roman Empire. They were few in number, by comparison, and their devotion to Christ drew them into a lifestyle and way of thinking utterly opposite the culture. Furthermore, hostility, official and unofficial, engulfed them.
So, this epistle, as the other epistles, encouraged but also challenged the Christians. It is eloquent in its message, using the imagery of racing. Paul says that he has not yet finished the race, but he has his eyes on one sight alone, namely the finish line. When he crosses this line, in other words when he dies an earthly death, he will have won because he will 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 so 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 would taint the family’s line of descent, and the identity of the people might be in jeopardy. Ultimately, it was a trick. The opponents of Jesus knew that to show mercy to the woman would be in accord with the Lord’s teaching, yet any semblance of downplaying her misconduct would appear to disregard the law of Moses and ancient Jewish custom.
Fearlessly, Jesus came to the woman’s rescue by forgiving her. He also upheld the sinfulness of adultery by admonishing her not to sin again.
Next weekend, the Church will observe Palm Sunday. Only two weeks of Lent remain.
The Church urges us that there is still time to repent and to refine our determination to follow Christ. Our own sins haunt us. Temptations still may be strong. We know our imperfections quite well. Abandoning them will not be easy. This reading tells us that Christ will forgive all, even terrible sins. He will strengthen us, support us, and protect us if we endeavor not to sin again.
Sin is real. So is divine mercy. God will help us to renounce sin and to turn to Christ. Nothing else matters. We need the Lord. He awaits us.
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