5th Sunday of Lent 2019. April 7, 2019.
Is 43:16-21; Phil 3:8-14; Jn 8:1-11
Before casting the stone at others
When I once asked a congregation the first thing that came to their mind when I mentioned the name King David, someone answered, “David and Bathsheba.”
David did so many good and great things in his life. He slaughtered lions and bears when he was a shepherd. As a young boy, he single-handedly saved the Israelites from the hands of the Philistines when he slew the giant Goliath with only a sling and a stone. He spared the life of the murderous King Saul when he had the golden opportunity to kill him. As a commander of the army, he successfully conquered all his enemies in battle. As king, he united the Jewish nation and wrote many beautiful psalms. But what we easily remember about David was his one transgression – his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his orchestration of the killing of her husband Uriah.
Why is it that we easily notice and focus on the one single evil thing in our lives and in the lives of others and then forget all the good that we and others have and do in our lives? We are so easily fixated on the evil and sinful things and ignore the beautiful and the good things. This tendency – to notice and focus exclusively on the evil things – is a consequence of our own sins and sinfulness. Sin blinds us to the good and beautiful in ourselves and others because as we live, so we shall see. Our lifestyles truly determine our spiritual vision!
How does the Holy God look at His sinful children? Surely He sees our sins but He also sees the good that He has placed in us and our potential to grow and to mature in our love for Him and for others. God speaks to His exiled people in today’s First Reading, promising to do greater things for them in a way that even the things of the past would not be worth remembering, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new.” But blinded by sin and the guilt of sin, God’s people cannot perceive the good that God is offering to them. This causes God to lament, “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it.” How can they perceive the goodness of God when they are in bondage to sin?
In today’s Gospel, the self-righteous Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery to Jesus, asking Him what He thought about Moses’ law to stone such women. This woman most probably did many good and pious things for God and others. Maybe she was a devoted wife who sacrificed a lot for her children, husband, and relatives. Maybe she was generous to the poor. Maybe she sincerely prayed as she struggled with the sins of lust and then, in a moment of weakness, succumbed to an adulterous act for the very first time and was caught. But the Pharisees, blinded by their own sins, do not and cannot see anything good in her. As they too lived evil lives cloaked in false righteousness, they only saw evil in her and thus were quick to condemn her and heartlessly use her as a tool to trap Jesus in their questioning.
Jesus, the only Holy One, asked the Pharisees to look into their own hearts for the very first time and face their own sinfulness so that could see enough good in the woman to grant her a second chance, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus, who has placed in us all goodness, sees the good in both the adulterous woman and her heartless accusers. In His holy person and life, Jesus sees the hidden goodness and beauty in them all. He sees that they all can be saints one day and that it is possible for them to grow out of their sinful attitudes.
We are so ready and quick to cast stones at others in our world today. The government of Brunei recently passed a law that homosexual acts are to be punished by stoning to death. To be clear, homosexual acts remain forever intrinsically evil, no matter what public opinion or sentiments may suggest today. But those who engage in such acts retain their inherent goodness from God and thus there is still a strong hope for their repentance, greater holiness, and selfless love for God and for others. The same goodness and hope is present in the drug addicts and pushers in the Philippines who are summarily executed. Even the infants in the womb are not safe from the murderous stones that are hauled at them by modern society.
Such murderous acts only reveal the evil in the hearts of their perpetrators and advocates and their blindness to the good in others. In addition, we too sometimes turn those stones on ourselves through acts of self-condemnation because of our sins. We behave like the demoniac in Mk 5:5 who cried out night and day, “bruising himself with stones.”
How can we begin to see the good in others and allow that goodness to flourish in the face of evil? We begin with ourselves, focusing not so much on our own sins, but on the good things that God is doing in our lives by His grace. Focusing exclusively on our sins, we become discouraged with our failures and the devil cannot wait to steal our hope. Once hope is lost, then the other person becomes our enemy, one to be stoned to death for the slightest sin.
But when we consciously focus on Jesus, He reveals to us our inner goodness and the undying love that He has for us even in our sins. This sense of divine goodness moves us to surrender our sins to Him completely and to receive His own merciful love that makes our own holiness possible. Then we can look with compassion on others and recognize their own goodness too. We can then begin to live with conviction these words of Pope John Paul the Great, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.”
The adulterous woman in today’s Gospel stood one-on-one with Jesus – a very privileged encounter. She heard the voices of her accusers all around her. Most likely her conscience troubled her. But in all these, she allowed Jesus to show her the good that was in her despite her own sins. She did not pretend or justify herself or argue that she was really holy. Jesus’ merciful love forgave her and cleansed her of her sins and set her free to live a holy life. That is why Jesus ends by saying, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
God loves us enough to die for us on the cross and to make that sacrifice present to us in this Eucharist. If we are ever going to put down our stones, we must focus on Jesus this Lenten season, constantly seeking for a one-on-one encounter with Him. He will reveal to us both our deepest dark sinful secrets and the goodness He has buried in each of us. Let us speak to Him about the voices that constantly condemn us and then surrender all our sins to Him without trying to excuse or justify ourselves. Jesus will cleanse us of our sins and give us His own holy love so that we too can struggle and prevail against sin in our lives. Struggling with and overcoming sin by His grace, our eyes will be opened and we will begin to perceive the good that God is doing in ourselves and in others. This is when we can truly cast our stones, not on others, but cast them down at the feet of Jesus.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!