Lent 5 C: Woman caught in Adultery

From Fr. Tony Kadavil:

1: Queen Elizabeth II of England honored John Profumo.

A number of years ago, at her annual birthday honors party, Queen Elizabeth honored John Profumo. Do you remember him? John Profumo was a high ranking cabinet official in the British government, and he was also the major figure in a scandal that rocked the British Empire. A book, and later a movie, dramatized the incident. The press reported that Profumo was involved in an affair with a call girl in London who, in turn, was involved with Russian spies. This was at the height of the Cold War.
When this matter was brought to light, Profumo made the matter worse by lying to the House of Commons. Later, he had a change of heart, went to the Prime Minister, confessed, and resigned from the Cabinet in shame. He dropped from public notice and quietly went to work in the slums of London, attempting to be of help to the lonely and the lost. For him, I suppose, it was a kind of personal penance. Years passed. Then, when he was sixty years old, at the honors party, Elizabeth II, the Queen of England, named John Profumo, the sinner, among the distinguished citizens of her realm! Isn’t that great? He was restored. Restored! Now note, the Queen did not say that what he had done was okay. What she said is that what he had done was forgiven! That is our stance as Christians. We are to have the highest possible standards, asking, “What looks and sounds like Jesus?” But, we don’t use our standards as a club with which to punish people. Rather, they are meant as a call to fullness of life in Christ. And when a brother or a sister stumbles, we don’t accuse and condemn. We forgive and extend a helping hand. As followers of Jesus, we are to be people of conviction, but we are also to be people with compassion. God, our Father, give us the spirit of our Lord Jesus. Help us to condemn the sin while loving the sinner. Help us to love because we have been loved. Enable us to forgive because we have been forgiven. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

2: Second chance:

Dr. A.J. Cronin was a great Christian physician in England. One night he assigned a young nurse to a little boy who had been brought to the hospital suffering from diphtheria, and given only a slight chance to live. A tube was inserted into the boy's throat to help him breathe. It was the nurse's job periodically to clean out the tube. As the nurse sat beside the boy's bed, she accidentally dozed off. She awakened to find that the tube had become blocked. Instead of following instructions, she was immobilized by panic. Hysterically she called the doctor from his home. By the time he got to the boy, he was dead. Dr. Cronin was angry beyond expression. That night Dr. Cronin went to his office and wrote his recommendation to the board demanding the immediate expulsion of the nurse. He called her in and read it, his voice trembling with anger. She stood there in pitiful silence, a tall, thin, gawky Welsh girl. She nearly fainted with shame and remorse. "Well," asked Dr. Cronin in a harsh voice, "have you nothing to say for yourself?" There was more silence. Then she uttered this pitiful plea, "...please give me another chance." Dr. Cronin sent her away. But he could not sleep that night. He kept hearing some words from the dark distance: "Forgive us our trespasses." The next morning Dr. Cronin went to his desk and tore up the report. In the years that followed he watched as this slim, nervous girl became the head of a large hospital and one of the more honored nurses in England. Thank God for a second chance, and a third chance, and fourth chance! Do you need to encounter God's forgiveness? He died on a cross to make it available.

3: Ann Landers:

Some time ago a lady wrote to the famous advice columnist Ann Landers and asked this question, "Do all men cheat on their wives? I have been suspicious of my husband for some time. I even hired a private detective to trail him, but he couldn't come up with a thing. I went to a lawyer. He told me to grow up and accept the fact that all husbands fool around. Do they?" Ann Landers very wisely replied, "No. There are plenty of married men who never cheat, and your husband could be one of them. The only thing you can be fairly sure of is that your lawyer cheats on his wife." Cheating on one's wife or husband is called adultery in the Bible. It is prohibited by the Sixth Commandment.

4. Mary’s stone:  

Here is an old but funny story. The Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery before Jesus for judgment and Jesus said "Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone at her." There was a sudden silence. But then all at once a small stone came flying from the back of the crowd aimed at the head of the woman, and Jesus promptly caught it. Looking at the lady standing in the crowd Jesus said, "Mother! Really! I was trying to make a point, here.” The assumption is that Jesus' mother, Mary, was immaculately conceived and hence sinless and so she was eligible to throw a stone. But if Jesus himself did not condemn the woman, why should his mother do so?
From Fr. Jude Botelho:

Today’s first reading from Isaiah shows us that a right relationship with God is not only important, but possible no matter how difficult the situation. Isaiah was promising liberation and redemption to those who were in captivity, when people had almost lost hope. When everything seemed more hopeless than before, Isaiah was speaking of a new exodus from Babylon, when God would once again work wonders for his people. We might give up on God but God does not give up on us. Isaiah was reminding his people that God isn’t a God of fear and punishment, but a loving and caring God. That God can do anything, even snuff our powerful Babylon that was keeping His people in exile. We have to remind ourselves that God not only did great things in the past but is ready to do wonderful things from us right now. He is a God of newness always acting and making something new.
In the second reading Paul affirms that the most important part of faith is knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and by ‘knowing’ Paul is not talking about intellectual knowledge but a deep personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. Paul is writing this letter almost twenty years after his conversion. When he was a Pharisee the search of his whole life had been for a right relationship with God, he had striven to observe perfectly all the demands of the Law. After his conversion he realize that all his efforts, all his achievements, his trials, his being thrown in jail, everything was useless, was dung. "I consider them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ." Blamelessness comes only from a person’s willingness to accept Christ. What Paul is asking of believers is not to be burdened by the past, we don’t have to look back in guilt, nor have we to be over preoccupied by our own efforts at attaining our salvation but rather to let God work in us and through us as he wishes. We cannot merit salvation but only humbly accept it as a total gift of God. In today’s gospel John paints a picture one the one hand of Jesus the merciful Lord who does not judge us even in our sinfulness but gives us another chance, and on the other hand a portrayal of human beings out to judge, to condemn, to destroy life in the name of religion and God. Jesus goes to the temple to pray and to proclaim the goodness of God, the Pharisees come to the temple to play a game of ‘whose right and whose wrong’, using a fallen woman to bait Jesus to fall into their trap. Unmindful of the embarrassment they are causing this woman, the Pharisees set the trap for Jesus. "Teacher this woman was caught in the very act of adultery and according to the law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. Now what do you say?" If Jesus says ‘No’ then he is going against the Mosaic Law and not showing respect for their religious traditions, for which he should be condemned. If on the other hand he says ‘Go ahead’ then how can he speak of mercy and pardon and besides he would be going against the Romans, who did not allow the Jews to impose the death penalty on anyone as only the Romans had that right. With either option Jesus would stand condemned. What was he to do? Jesus was silent. He did not do what they expected him to do. He did not pass judgement one way or another. Instead he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. Human beings are quick to judge and we find ourselves judging and labeling people all the time. We judge by externals and we impute motives for what we can see without bothering to understand, without ever asking whether we are qualified to judge. "Judge not and you shall not be judged."

"First get rid of the log in your own eye before you remove the speck from your brother…"

A woman brought her daughter to Mahatma Gandhi one time asking him to place his hand on her head, to recite a prayer over her, and to free her from an addiction she had. Gandhi asked what the addiction was, and her mother said that her daughter was addicted to sweet things, like sugar, sweets, sweet cakes etc. Gandhi thought for a while and he then asked the mother to take her daughter home and return one month later. This seemed strange, but the mother did what she was asked. One month later she arrived with her daughter. Gandhi placed his hand on the young girl’s head and prayed over her, and then he told the mother to take her daughter home, because from now on, everything would be ok. The mother more puzzled than annoyed, asked Gandhi why he was able to do something this day and not on the previous occasion. Gandhi smiled, as he told the mother that, up to one month ago, he too, was very fond of sweet things! - Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel Truth’
When the Pharisees press on and demand a response Jesus said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." And he bent down and wrote on the ground. Jesus’ seeming show of indifference annoyed the scribes and the Pharisees and they persisted in their questioning. Perhaps it never entered their mind that they should not judge, that authority like theirs should be tempered with compassion. One of Jesus’ basis principles was that no human being should judge another, let God be the judge. If they wanted to judge then they should be beyond the expectation of the law –sinless in this regard. In Jewish law, that would make witnesses responsible for their judgement. If a witness was later proved to be lying, the witness would be condemned to death.

What about Jesus’ action of writing on the ground? No one knows what he wrote. Was he doodling on the ground? Some one has suggested that perhaps he was listing the sins of the Pharisees. Well aware that they were guilty one by one they slinked away beginning with the eldest till Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. St. Augustine described it poetically, ‘two are left: misery and mercy." And the woman hears the good news from Jesus. "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and sin no more." Some people would have difficulty accepting how easily Jesus forgives. "Does God really forgive as easily as that?" Graham Greene has called it "the awful strangeness of God’s mercy." It is important to understand the heart of the message. The lesson of the story is not that sin is of no importance, or that God does not punish sin, but that God extends mercy to the repentant sinner in order that they might turn from their sins. Unlike the Pharisees who wanted to condemn, Jesus wanted to forgive. He believed in the goodness of people whereby the one who has sinned can change. Jesus was giving her another chance. Her life was not all over, she could begin again and so can we. He is making us anew!
Today’s reading from Isaiah shows us that a right relationship with God is not only important, but possible, no matter how difficult the situation. When everything seemed hopeless Isaiah was speaking of a new Exodus from Babylon. When things go wrong with us we often tend to give up hope, to think that God is punishing us for our sins and offences. Our past should remind us of the wonders he has done for us. God has not only acted on our behalf in the past but He is always acting for us, always doing something new for us.

“Never look back”
A lesson I learnt early in life was ‘never look back!’ As a four-year old, I ran a fifty-meter race at a Christmas party for kids organized by a company. Halfway through, I was first in the pack whereupon I looked back to see where the others were. In a wink, the others overtook me and I finished last. I wept bitterly. “Son” said dad comfortingly: “Never look back.” “No need to recall the past,” says God in the first reading from Isaiah, “no need to think about what was done before.” The deeds “done before” refer to the first Exodus from Egyptian slavery to freedom. The “new deed” is the return from the Babylonian exile. In Christian imagery the “new deed” refers to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’

In today’s Gospel we have the moving account of the encounter between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. The scribes and the Pharisees brought this woman caught in adultery to Jesus not because they are concerned about morality, but because they want to trap Jesus. If he goes against the death penalty then he would seem to be condoning adultery. If he decided for the death penalty, he would lose the sympathy of the masses who knew him to be kind to sinners. What is the response of Jesus? He wants to avoid anything that would cause her further shame so Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. One of Jesus’ basic principles is that no human being is to judge another. The quality needed for definitive judgment is not knowledge, but goodness, which only God has in sufficient degrees to make judgments. So Jesus, when prodded on by the Pharisees, charges the one who is without sin to cast the first stone. How often we have a double standard for judgment. We have one set for ourselves and quite another for others. We are able to see very clearly the weaknesses and failings of others while we condone the same in ourselves. The Gospel tells us that the Pharisees got the point, and one by one they left the scene beginning with the eldest. The point of the gospel story however is not the Pharisees and their behaviour, it is not about judging others; the heart of the story is what happens between Jesus and the woman when all her accusers have vanished. Jesus is left alone with this woman. He turns to her and asks her, “Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more.” The lesson of the story is not that sin is of no importance, or that God does not punish sin, but that God extends mercy to repentant sinners in order that they might turn from their sins. With this woman as with us, Jesus is not interested in what she was but in what she could become. Unlike the Pharisees who wanted to condemn, He wanted to forgive. He wanted to challenge her to leave her sin and rebuild her life. He was giving her another chance. He is giving us, even at this eleventh hour, another chance. God is not a God of condemnation but of mercy and forgiveness.

The Scarlet Letter

 In 1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne published ‘The Scarlet Letter.’ Its setting was a Puritan community in Boston in early New England. Hawthorne’s novel tells the story of Hester Prynne who was forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” for “adultery” because she had given birth to an illegitimate child. The child’s father was none other than the community’s minister, Arthur Dimmersdale. Hester had to bear public scorn and humiliation, while the minister had merely to bear the pangs of conscience. After many years the minister finally confessed his secret sin to the people and later died in peace. Hester meanwhile went on to live like a saint bringing happiness to her disturbed illegitimate daughter and helping others in their troubles. ‘The Scarlet Letter’ has some similarities with today’s Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery.

He doesn’t deserve mercy!

 The story is told of a young French soldier who deserted Napoleon’s army, but who within a matter of hours was caught by his own troops. To discourage soldiers from abandoning their posts the penalty for desertion was death. The young soldier’s mother heard what had happened and went to plead with Napoleon to spare the life of her son. Napoleon heard her plea but pointed out that because of the serious nature of the crime her son had committed he clearly did not deserve mercy. “I know he doesn’t deserve mercy” the mother answered. “It wouldn’t be mercy if he deserved it.” That’s the point about mercy: nobody deserves it. It is given freely!

Two Suffering

Fr. Titus Brandsma was a University President in Holland during World War II. He was arrested by the Nazis and taken to a concentration camp at Dachau. There he was isolated in an old dog kennel. His guards amused themselves by ordering him to bark like a dog when they passed. Eventually he died from torture. What the Nazis didn’t know was that the priest kept a diary of his ordeal, writing between the lines of print in an old prayer book. He wrote that he was able to endure his suffering because he knew Jesus has suffered before him. In a poem addressed to Jesus, he wrote: “No grief shall fall my way, but I shall see your grief-filled eyes; The lonely way that you once walked has made me sorrow-wise…“Your love has turned to brightest light this night-like way (of mine)… “Stay with me, Jesus, only stay; I shall not fear if, reaching out my hand, I feel you (are) near.”
Kilian Healy in ‘Walking with God’

Fearless Resolve
Hollywood heroes often capture our imagination because they symbolize something that we admire. For example, when we watch Charles Bronson in Death Wish, Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry or Sylvester Stallone in Rambo, it is not their violent actions that attract us, but their cool courage in confronting danger. We’re inspired whenever we see these film heroes walk fearlessly into what they know are high-risk situations, because they have resolved to do what they have to do, to right some wrong. Spontaneously we almost want to stand up and cheer for them as they defy death and demonstrate daring, because we wish that we too could face our own challenges with the same kind of courage.
Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

Double standards
It is some years ago now when I actually witnessed the following scene. I saw a mother with a son about six years of age, and a daughter of about four. The young girl was crying because of her brother who was after her hitting her on the head with his school bag. The mother lifted the young lad off the ground, gave him a sharp smack across the face, with the words: “I’ll teach you not to hit anyone smaller than yourself.” –We are all familiar with the concern of parents and teachers about young people in their care taking drugs. Many of the same adults spend quite a lot of time and money buying and using alcohol, cigarettes, stimulants, and other addictive products. If they themselves fail to see the contradiction inherent in their behaviour, they should not expect the younger generation to be as blind as they are.
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth’

1. Once upon a time a high school principal discovered that someone had stolen the exam questions from her office. It had to have been the sophomores because they were the only ones whose grades shot up. She assembled all the sophomores in the gym and tore into them. I don’t know who’s more stupid she said, the one’s who stole the tests and then gave them to everyone else or the ones who use the stolen tests to improve their grades. 
 Either way we were bound to catch you. So you’re not only sneaky and dishonest and corrupt. You’re also dumb. We’re suspending the lot of you indefinitely until we find out who stole the tests. Tell your parents not to bother to come over here and try to change my mind. I won’t talk to them. I won’t even waste my time telling them that their children are crooked and dumb. If the people who did it confess, we might not expel them, but they don’t have much time to fess up. Then she stormed out of the gym.
The sophomores slipped out in twos and threes. I agree with what she said, they admitted, but I didn’t like the way she said it.
2. An elderly woman was telling the pastor on his farewell from the parish: “I am sorry, father, you are leaving. I never really knew what sin was until you came here.”
3. Pastor and Farmer:

“Do you smoke, drink or curse?” The pastor asked the old farmer. It was a hesitant, “well, every once in a while..” “You know, John, I don’t smoke, drink, or cuss…” “Yessuh, pastor, but you don’t farm either..!”