Dear parishioners and friends in Christ,
We have reached the Fifth Sunday of Lent. The Liturgy presents to us the Gospel episode of Jesus forgiving a woman caught in the act of adultery, for which Mosaic law prescribes stoning (Jn 8: 1-11). The scene is full of drama: It begins with a group of Pharisees and scribes ready to stone the sinful woman. She knows how the law of Moses treats her crime. It says, “You shall bring them both out to the gate of the city and there stone them to death” (Deuteronomy 22:24). Thus, she expects no reprieve. She figures all is lost. She assumes that her sin is unforgivable.
Yet Jesus treats her differently. He forgives her sins, restores her dignity, saves her from a violent death, and sends her away as a new creation. As the accusers are insistently interrogating him, Jesus bends down and starts writing with his finger on the ground. According to St Augustine, this gesture portrays Jesus as the Divine Legislator. We can recall from the Book of Exodus that God, in fact, wrote the law with His finger on the tablets of stone. Thus, Jesus is the Legislator; he is Justice in person. And what is his sentence? “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her”. These words contain the disarming power of truth that pulls down the wall of the accusers’ hypocrisy. They open their consciences to greater justice, that of love, which consists of the fulfillment of the law.
Imagine ourselves in the place of the woman. We would be very nervous at this point, wondering when the first stone is coming. We would hide our face, too afraid to even look. But the rocks never come. We are in shock and wondering what has happened. Then, after sitting crouched in the corner for a while, we would look up. We would see only the merciful face of Jesus who offers us a hand up. All our accusers have quietly walked away, one by one, beginning with the eldest. Then we would hear Jesus says, “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on sin no more.” This experience must be so liberating and life-giving! We are not condemned but given another chance to be good.
Brothers and sisters, this liberating experience can be ours as well when we go to meet the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We’ve all done something that we know is wrong, and our conscience is condemning us. Then, when we go to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we experience the overflow of God’s abundant mercy washing over our souls.
Some people today are reluctant to go to Confession. They might say, “I find myself confessing the same sins over and over. Why confess them at all?” One way to look at this dilemma is to draw a comparison between our spiritual health and our physical health. Scientists tell us that due to the complexity of our genes, each of us is born with certain physical weaknesses like poor eyesight, different kinds of allergies, or some physical defects. Would it not be unusual if we stop taking the allergy shots because our allergies never go away? Our spiritual health is like that. Each of us has certain spiritual weaknesses, such as the tendency to be impatient, critical of others, proud, self-centered, dishonest, lazy, and the like. Thus, we should not have considered it unusual that we must keep going back to Confession, seeking God’s forgiveness for the failures related to these spiritual weaknesses.
Some of us might also feel that we don’t have anything to confess. Perhaps we have become insensitive to our spiritual weaknesses and failures. Scripture puts it bluntly, “if we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves.” (1 John 1:8). Perhaps it can be that we have been focusing too much on sins of commission rather than omission. It comes as a surprise to some people to learn that the Gospel lays most of its stress on sins of omission – not doing things we should do. In the story of the Last Judgment, Jesus emphasizes this teaching, “For I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me…What you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:41-45).
Dear brothers and sisters, Lent is the time to seek out the forgiving Jesus so that he can heal our spiritual defects and restore our freedom, like that woman in the Gospel today. As we approach closer to the Holy Week, why not give yourself a chance to experience Jesus’ liberating mercy?
Devotedly yours in Christ,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham