In order to emphasize the significance of the Gospel passage (John 8:1-11) for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, I would like to share a statement from my first spiritual director at the minor seminary.
“Remember, you can receive the Lord in Holy Communion every day and still live with mortal sins on your soul; but it is impossible to open your heart to Jesus, as God’s Word, and still be enslaved by a mortal sin.”
Such is the power of God’s Word: Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
Today’s Gospel incident proves precisely the same point.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. John 8:2
Those who opened their hearts to God’s Word taught by Jesus in the Temple area, found themselves in enviable self-awareness of their sinfulness and their need of God’s mercy. And they also found the confidence to respond fully to his grace.
However, on that same grace-filled day, the scribes and Pharisees were standing confidently by their strict view of the Mosaic Law. Hence, that seemingly solid stance kept them from becoming aware of their pitiful inner condition; and led them to ignore Jesus’ teachings.
Thus, as their protracted spiritual blindness set in, it led them to focus, instead, on the obvious mistake of the woman caught in adultery.
Such was the extent of their underestimation of the power of God’s Word.
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
These unequivocal, terse words, preceded as they were by prolonged silence, penetrated deeply into the recesses of their hearts as if a mirror was held in front of their faces.
The elders were the first ones to be disturbed by what they saw in the clear mirror of God’s Word. Quite embarrassed, one by one, they dropped their stones and left in confusion.
Taught also from this event, the Church has always encouraged the faithful to meditate on God’s Word often and to probe with it the recesses of the heart.
Even nowadays, many spirit-filled people close each day with an examination of conscience based on God’s Word.
This good practice serves several purposes: 1) digging up unconfessed sins with which one might have learned to live without feeling the urgency to be reconciled with God; 2) enabling one to exercise self-discipline and self-restraint to avoid falling into more serious sins; 3) and cooperating eagerly with God’s grace to grow spiritually.
Awareness of our sinfulness is a very healthy inner disposition: it helps us face the constant challenge presented by Jesus as Truth. It enables us to rely on his divine mercy and it keeps us from usurping God’s prerogative to find flaws in others, to judge them readily and even to dare to condemn them.
For I know my offense; my sin is always before me. Psalm 51:5
However, a word of caution is due at this time: like the psalmist, we too should keep our sins before our eyes, in full awareness of the evil we have done and/or of the good we have failed to do. However, this has to be done avoiding self-pity and brooding over our failures in false humility; and, at all cost, we must never despair of God’s mercy.
If our minds are eagerly engaged by the light of Jesus as Word of the Father and our hearts are generously and trustingly opened to the action of the Holy Spirit, a new way opens up in front of us.
It is the way mentioned by the prophet Isaiah (43:16-21).
It could be a way in the sea of addictions; it could be a path in the mighty waters of social pressure, fads and popular trends; it could be a road through the desert of wanting to fit in at the cost of serious compromises, and so on.
They all lead to the freedom that God alone can provide.
Here, is worth repeating a quote from Dr. Kenneth Howell: “The past to God’s Mercy, the present to his Love, and the future to his Providence.”
Perhaps, pride is the most serious obstacle keeping us from walking, confidently, down the path to freedom opened before us by God’s Word.
Hence, this is the time for some pertinent questions: In spite of the endless reminders of the infinitude of God’s mercy do we still put tight boundaries on it?
In spite of mounting evidence of our spiritual poverty, do we still rely on our fine conduct, good deeds and impeccable performance to bolster our self-worth?
Are they the platform on which we stand to do our finger-pointing, our harsh judging and even, perhaps, our condemning?
Now and then, do we catch ourselves putting a favorable spin on our past mistakes? Do we stay away from the light of God’s Word fearing what we might discover buried inside our hearts?
Are we willing to admit that pride was the cause of the long stretches during which we were consumed by resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness and stubborn, unreasonable stances?
One more look at this gospel setting should convince us that, today, could be the turning point in our life as that day, in the Temple area, was a defining moment in the life of the woman caught in adultery.
For this to happen, on a daily basis, we should avail ourselves of the mirror that Christ holds in front of us.
If we have a precious combination of humility, confidence in, and love for the Lord we would not simply stop sinning, these three virtues would enable us to walk on the path to freedom in the light of God’s Word and we would be able to see how the image in the mirror would gradually turn into a reflection resembling more and more the features of Christ himself.