Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mercy looks forward

5th Sunday of Lent C
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
17 March 2013
Daily Readings

In the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery, we see on the one hand the worst trappings of religion.  The scribes and Pharisees have a righteous law of Moses, to not commit adultery and to punish adultery severely lest it becomes a cancer that destroys families.  Yet they twist this law which is meant to liberate from sin, and use it to imprison instead.  What is more, if this woman was caught in the very act of adultery, then where is the man?  Were not two caught?  It is a good question. Why do they not also accuse him, nor bring him before Jesus?  We have no plain answer.  In this Gospel we see the worst of religion - hypocrisy and patriarchy together.

There is also a lack of humility on the part of the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus in refusing for most of this Gospel to look up from the ground to dignify the trap laid for him, shows what is missing in this scene - earthiness, humility.  Humility is a charism already identified and called forth from the conclave in the election of our new Holy Father, who has taken the name of Francis.  Everyone wants to predict his entire papacy based on his first few actions, which is rash and unfair, but Pope Francis himself has told us that his mind and heart were especially with the poor during the first moments of his pontificate.  Stories of the new Pope's desire to stay close to the earth, and to the poor, like Francis his namesake, have already inspired many.

Jesus is given a false choice between justice and mercy, and like every trap laid for him, he escapes.  Jesus is justice and mercy incarnate, and he cannot choose between them anymore than he can divide his own person.  Pointing a way forward for all who are there, Jesus the new Moses, and the new law-giver, writes on the ground.  He writes a law in dirt exposing that the law of Moses once etched in stone cannot be applied by hearts of stone.  It must be applied by hearts that know what it is to be human.  He invites a humble contemplation of everyone's sin, not just the sin of the woman.  Anyone who is humble uses the sin of another as an invitation to contemplate his own sin, before he casts a stone.

St. Paul, once he encountered a righteousness that looks exclusively forward, a righteousness in Christ that makes all things new because it participates in Christ's creative mercy, considers the righteousness that looks backwards to be rubbish.  St. Paul says that Christians cannot be trapped looking backward at the worst thing they have ever done.  Of sinners, he considers himself the worst, just as we should always first accuse ourselves, but this is no excuse for orienting our lives toward the past.  Neither is someone who is superficially satisfied comparing himself to others worthy to be a Christian.  Anyone who has been truly touched by the mercy of Christ, is by definition a person who is eager to forgive, and a person who cannot fail to hope in the future.

Without eschewing justice in the least, we cannot be a people who minimize our religion to the point where it enslaves instead of liberates.  We cannot settle for a minimum amount of God's mercy, so we can hold onto control of our judgments of ourselves and others.  There are too many of us who still hold onto the worst thing we have ever done.  The story of the adulterous woman must free us of this fear.  We cannot be scared to be different. If we dare this, then unforgiveness will be impossible.  Mercy received and known is mercy shared.  True mercy, which is at the heart of God and is the foundation of His desire to create, cannot fail to make all things new.  The scribes and Pharisees, in trying to trap Jesus, only show that they are trapped themselves.  They are scared of what this mercy could really do.  Amen.


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