Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Isaiah 43:16-21
Philippians 3:8-14
John 8:1-11


March 27-28, 2004 Fifth Sunday of Lent, Cycle C

A man pulled into the church parking lot very early for the next mass. The lot was empty so he parked in the spot closest to the door. Just as he was getting out of his car, a parishioner drove up, rolled down his car window and shouted, “Hey, you took my place. That’s where I always park!” The man went into the church and sat in a pew at the back of the church. Just before Mass started, another parishioner came up to him and said, “You took my place. I always sit in this seat.” After Mass, there were coffee and donuts down in the parish hall so the man went down, got a cup of coffee and a donut, and sat down at one of the tables. A couple of children came up to him and said, “You took our place. We always sit here to eat our donuts.” The man stood up and started walking towards the door, but all of a sudden, he started to change. His clothes fell in tatters at his feet and terrible scars appeared on his hands and feet and his back. All eyes were on him and someone called out, “What happened to you?” As his hat turned into a crown of thorns, the man turned to the crowd and answered, “I took your place!”

Today’s gospel is a very familiar story to us. I am sure we can all picture the scene in our minds: Jesus in the temple area, teaching the crowds as he has been doing for the past few days, when a crowd drags this woman before him. The scene takes on the aspects of a trial – a constant theme of John’s Gospel. But who is on trial. On the surface, it is the woman caught in adultery. But the reality is that it is a setup to trap Jesus. The trap is this: if Jesus agrees that the woman should be stoned to death, he rejects the authority of Rome since, according to John 18, the Romans have taken away the right to condemn to death from the Jews; if Jesus objects to the stoning, he is rejecting the authority of Moses, whose law calls for the death of both the adulterer and the adulteress. At first Jesus says nothing but bends down and starts writing in the dirt. Then when the crowd continues to press for a judgment, Jesus speaks. He doesn’t say the law is wrong. He doesn’t say the woman is to be stoned. He simply reminds them what they all have in common, this crowd and this woman. They are all sinners. One by one the crowd vanishes, led by the elders. You have to give this crowd credit for recognizing the truth when it was presented to them. Then Jesus speaks again, this time to the woman, telling her to go but to sin no more.

All of today’s readings instruct us in how we are to approach the fact that we are all sinners. It is by looking to the future. God tells Isaiah, "Look, I am doing something new." From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus’ cry has been, “Repent.” Repent means to turn towards God. As Paul relates in that second reading, we are not to get bogged down looking at the past: our past or others’ pasts. We need to acknowledge that past, acknowledge that we have all sinned, and none of us is standing on such high moral ground that we can condemn others.

I think it is easy for us to identify with the crowd who condemn the sinner to the prescribed punishment, or to identify with the woman as we have experienced others condemning us for something we have done. As the crowd, we are reminded to recall our own sinfulness whenever we are tempted to condemn another. As the woman, we are reminded of the depth and gentleness of God’s mercy when we are caught in sin, and we are reminded that we need to turn from that sin, turn to God in response to this mercy. And we need to do that over and over again until we die.

I would suggest that the real challenge in today’s Gospel is to identify with Jesus. As the body of Christ, we are called to be agents of God’s mercy and reconciliation in this world of sin. Notice that this does not mean we are to be blind to what sin is. Those who go around saying that everything is all right because Jesus loves everyone have forgotten this story. We need to name sin when we experience it. But in formulating our response we need to remember that we too are sinners. We need to have that solidarity with all before God. Then we are called to be channels of God’s mercy and reconciliation that empower sinners to turn away from sin and to face the new day turned towards God. Jesus does not condemn the woman because he knows that he has taken her place. If we are to continue Jesus’ saving work, we have to enter into his dying for others.

As we finish our Lenten journey, through fasting and almsgiving and prayer, perhaps the question we need to reflect on is not who killed Christ, but how can we die with him.

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