FOR 13 MARCH 2016
John 8:1-11 (Fifth Sunday of Lent)
Is the glass half-empty or half-full? A scientist might remind you that the glass is actually completely full, with atoms of both water and air. A philosopher might ask, “But are we sure the glass is real?” And a lawyer might say, “We can agree on whether or not the glass is real, or to what degree it is full or empty.” Coming back to the original question, we realize that we live our lives with different perspectives, and each has its own filters, prejudices, biases. It has to do with our limited human vision, our partial and basic human blindness, or set of blindnesses.
Many times, our blindness brings harm, when it flows from our pained histories, our broken societies, our needy psyches. As a result we become: offensive bullies or defensive fence sitters; hypercritical monsters or meek and fearful followers; obsessive-compulsive managers or self-promoting status seekers.
The blindness of the scribes and Pharisees in the gospel becomes manifest, when they bring to Jesus the woman caught in adultery. All they see is the law and its breaking, because they have built their whole world of privilege on an easy black-and-white interpretation, over which they have claimed mastery. But Jesus would not have this.
Jesus sees things differently. He sees a child of God who is hurting because of her sin. He sees a lost sheep who can be brought back to the fold. He sees someone who can be forgiven, and not just seven times, but seventy times seven times, because she is at her core the image and likeness of the One Who cannot be anything but good. It is because of who she is at heart that it is always possible for her to rise and rise again, no matter how often she might fall. The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins says it well: despite the fact that we are all “seared with trade”, “bleared, smeared with toil”, wearing human smudge and smell, there still “lives the dearest freshness deep down things” because even we, sinners all, are forever charged with grandeur of God.
This is how we can never tire of pursuing the race to the end, as Paul tells us in the second reading, even if we have no righteousness of our own. Yet, if we have been “taken possession of” by the Lord, and we can see as He sees, then we can always begin again “forgetting what lies behind and straining to what lies ahead”.
There are many other things that Jesus sees.
Jesus sees the laws of Judaism and all its rules, and understands them well. He does not tell the scribes to break them. Instead, Jesus invites them to go beyond the law, and indeed to the very heart of the law, which speaks of love and mercy.
Jesus sees the violence that has come into our lives, and how this can take over our being, and how we can pass it on so easily to those who do not think and feel the way we do. We stone our foes. We mock them in many ways. But Jesus chooses never to bring down, and always to raise up, and give new hope.
Jesus sees that the sixth commandment has been broken. Yet, more important than any penalty for its violation, is the recovery of the perspective of the beauty of human sexuality. He invites the nameless woman, who stands for us all, to see that sexuality is a gift of God – powerful and, if we combine it with selfless love, truly life giving and energizing. He then tells her to go and sin no more.
The first reading speaks of a God who is “doing something new”, able to “open a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters”. Indeed, Jesus does something new, something never heard of, going to the heart of the law and to the heart of the human being, and offering new light to both.
Jesus is really offering us the possibility of a new way of looking at life. It cannot just be a simple give and take, such that when we cannot take we seize to give. It can no longer be just eye for an eye because we end up with a world of the blind – an immoral situation because, as Martin Luther King rightly declares, “it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.”
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis calls on the Church to heal wounds, “to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care”, and not to fall into “humiliating indifference” or “destructive cynicism” or “monotonous routine that prevents us from discovering what is new!” (Misericordiae Vultus 15)
The Holy Father calls for a return to the sacrament of reconciliation, and he reminds priests that: “Every confessor must accept the faithful as the father … who runs out to meet his son despite the fact that he has squandered away his inheritance …” and also to go out “to the other son who stands outside, incapable of rejoicing, in order to explain to him that his judgment is severe and unjust and meaningless in light of the father’s boundless mercy.” The Pope adds: “In short, confessors are called to be a sign of the primacy of mercy always, everywhere, and in every situation, no matter what.” (Misericordiae Vultus 17)
Justice and the observance of law are good and very important, and in many human situations, they are all we can work with. But for followers of Christ, it does not end there. Once we begin to see as He sees, mercy and forgiveness cannot but follow. Yet forgiving the other can be quite difficult, and often, will power is not enough. They can only be gifts from God, which we can only fervently ask for and humbly receive.
This homily appeared in the website of the Philippine Jesuits.