The 5th Sunday of Lent, 2022

priest hearing confession outdoors

‘Go away, and don’t sin any more’

 The 5th Sunday of Lent, 2022

Like a week ago, today we also heard a very beautiful Word of God, which can be very challenging and helpful in our spiritual preparation for the upcoming time of Holy Week and the Triduum. It is hard to believe that we only have two weeks left before this intense and holy time of Easter arrives, and yet we still have a lot to do in our spiritual lives, in the church and in our homes.

In today’s gospel, we have heard a very dynamic story about a woman who was caught in adultery and brought to Jesus for him to judge her shameless and scandalous deeds, and to approve the extremely harsh and cruel sentence she deserved under the law of Moses. Certainly, none of us would like to experience such or a similar situation. None of us would like to be in her position. None of us would like to be so humiliated and so severely condemned by the crowds. And finally, none of us would like to lose our good reputation in the town or community where we live and work. However, as we heard, Jesus knew the true intentions of the Pharisees and scribes and therefore did something unpredictable, something that surely surprised all his listeners. I think that at this stage each of us can ask ourselves a very important question: In what situation and how often could we say about ourselves that we are like the Pharisees and scribes of today’s gospel? Do such situations happen in our lives? Whose attitudes irritate us the most and make us feel scandalized? Who do we judge most often, and who would we want to bring to Jesus, hoping that he will condemn him and reject him exactly as we would? Do we have people that we don’t like or even hate? They can be politicians, neighbours, close or distant family members, parishioners or other people we meet by chance: in the church, in shops or somewhere on the streets of our towns and villages. Because I know quite well myself, and therefore I know from my own experience how big a problem in our spiritual life can be our tendency to criticize and judge other people. I think it is worth asking today, pondering this very challenging gospel: Do we know people – whom we have encountered at some point in in lives – whom we dislike, criticize and would like to condemn or even stone? If so, Jesus invites us to look very carefully at what he is writing with his finger on the ground. As some Bible scholars say: When He bent down, He began to write with his finger the sins of the Pharisees and scribes. And that is why – as the evangelist says – all of them immediately began to leave this place, one by one. If we are like those Pharisees and scribes, then Jesus invites us personally to look at our own consciences first. He invites us to look at our own attitudes – first towards our families, our loved ones, and then towards other people as well. He invites each of us to reflect on our own weaknesses, which can help us become more objective, more sensitive and gentler in our judgments. Of course, each of us has the right to see and judge other people’s attitudes – especially when they scandalize others – but only in moderation, only with love, only with tenderness and with full awareness that we are not perfect. None of us is perfect, and each of us sooner or later will have to rely on God’s mercy.

A while ago someone told me a very wise saying that I remember especially when I am asked to go and hear someone’s confession. I heard this phrase during one of the retreats I attended and personally I find it very important and useful: To point someone to his weaknesses, mistakes and sins without showing him the way out of his difficult and sinful situation in which he found himself – it means to condemn him to death. To point someone to his weaknesses, mistakes and sins – it is definitely not enough. I think this is exactly what the Pharisees and scribes did in today’s gospel. They knew exactly how to point out this poor woman’s bad attitude, but none of them had any idea how to help, how to show her the way out, and how to save her life. The only solution they could offer was the death penalty. As we heard Jesus did not approve of this woman’s sinful life, he did not excuse her for her scandalous deeds. He did not say to her: Don’t worry, you have done nothing wrong. It is the Pharisees and scribes who are the bad and judgemental people who deserve condemnation. I’m here to be your advocate, to justify you. No, Jesus didn’t say anything like that. He said to her with great love, meekness but also with firmness: Go away and don’t sin any more. We can hear the same words whenever we go confess our sins in the sacrament of reconciliation, which we heard about quite often in recent weeks. Go away and don’t sin any more. May these profound words of Jesus give us strength and courage, may they inspire us. May they help us move away from our sinful habits so that we can begin a completely new life with God who never condemns and rejects us, but always gives us hope and welcomes us with great gentleness and with great joy.

Fr Gregory