5lcHomily for Mass – Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year C)

(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Saturday 6pm, Sunday 7.30am & 9am;  Saint Joseph’s, Kangaroo Point: Sunday 5pm)

17 March 2013

(Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21;  Ps 125;  Philippians 3:8-14;  John 8:1-11]


“No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before.  See, I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light;  can you not see it?”  The theme of the “new thing” God is doing runs through the Word of God today.  It’s a theme I think we’ve lived in a very particular way this week, with the election of Pope Francis.  We had been praying intensely for the election of a new pope, and then early on Thursday morning (our time) we saw the fruits of our prayers.  As the world was introduced to the new successor of Saint Peter, and as we heard him speak and even just saw his image, I think we had a real sense of the “new thing” God is doing for us in our own day.  When Jesus gave Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and established him as the rock on which the Church would be built, he gave a great gift to his followers.  Christ continues to speak to his people through his Vicar on earth, and through him we can hear afresh the message of God’s love, and the call to life in God’s kingdom.  It’s a message that essentially doesn’t change, but it is presented anew to us.  And when it is presented to us anew, we have the chance of seeing and hearing things that we haven’t heard before.

God has always been doing a “new thing.”  From the freeing of his people from slavery in Egypt;  to the sending of prophets to recall his people to their true calling;  to the ultimate “new thing” in the incarnation of his Son as a human – as one of us.  God is constantly working, constantly bringing people from where they were, and calling them to enter more deeply into the fullness of life with him.

Saint Paul, in the second reading, recalls that in his own life God called him firstly to leave behind his life of persecution of the Church, and then to live a life seeking “only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ.”  Saint Paul recognizes that this call on his life from God is ongoing.  He acknowledges that he hasn’t reached that perfection found in Christ yet;  he hasn’t yet won the race and gained the prize.  But he feels the call from God to “forget the past” and to keep straining “ahead for what is still to come.”  That acknowledgement from Saint Paul that he hasn’t won the race yet I think is a wonderful encouragement to us to keep striving.  We ourselves would – I’m sure – admit that we haven’t reached that perfection yet;  there is still work to be done in our lives;  God is still calling us to leave the past behind and to embrace his will more fully.

When the scribes and Pharisees bring to Jesus the woman caught in the very act of adultery, her life was over.  She had no future any more.  The law was clear: the punishment for that action was death by stoning.  When Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger, this action recalls when God first gave the law to Moses: He wrote it on the stone tablets with his finger.  So now, in Jesus, the divine law-giver acts again.  Jesus doesn’t abolish the law;  he doesn’t say that what the woman did wasn’t that bad – that everyone else does that sort of thing too;  he doesn’t change the law.  But what Jesus points out is that, while the scribes and Pharisees knew the letter of the law very well, they didn’t know the heart of the law-maker.  Without altering the law one bit, Jesus acknowledges that the woman (and the man she was with) had indeed done the wrong thing, and the punishment was clear.  But in revealing the heart of the law-maker, Jesus simply says: let the one who has no sin be the one to execute punishment.  Jesus is the only one there who is without sin, and he does not condemn the woman.  She’s given a new start – her life is now not over.  Jesus gives her a future.  God will continue to do new things in her life.

As we look at our own lives, perhaps we’re conscious of real falls we’ve had – times when we’ve fouled up badly.  Perhaps memories of those events niggle away at us.  Sometimes those memories are simply the work of Satan, who tries to discourage us by making us focus on our weakness, and to doubt the love and mercy of God.  Sometimes our conscience rightly makes us aware of sins so that we’ll repent.  It’s good to remember that there is a difference between making a judgment about the rightness or wrongness of an action, and condemnation.  The Gospel teaches that Jesus doesn’t condemn – he doesn’t write people off.  He doesn’t write us off, no matter what mess we’ve got ourselves into.  He certainly judges: what is sin is sin, no two ways about it.  But he doesn’t condemn.  In God’s mercy there is always a future.  If we repent, God always forgives.

The Word of God today invites us to suspend the condemnations we make of ourselves and others.  We are certainly to be intolerant of sin: beginning with our own sins.  We must never forget Jesus’ words: “Go away and do not sin any more.”  But while we are intransigent with sin, we are to be merciful, even “indulgent” with others (1).  In God’s plan, there is always a future for sinners.  We have those encouraging words: every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.  God is always ready to do a new thing in our lives, to give us grace to leave the death of sin and live in the freedom of his sons and daughter.

We ask Mary, the holy mother of God, who was without sin, and who is the mediatrix of graces for every repentant sinner, to pray for us and help us to be open to the grace of repentance, and to keep striving ahead for what is yet to come.


(1)      Benedict XVI, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/angelus/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20100321_en.html