March 11, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first reading for this weekend in Lent is from the prophet Isaiah. When it was written, God’s people were facing many trials and tribulations.

It was a bittersweet moment. After several generations of living in exile in Babylon, the people were free to return to their homeland, thanks to a change in political power in the region. It was a time for which these people, and their parents or grandparents, had yearned to see.

However, their historic homeland was sterile and desolate, hardly the land overflowing with milk and honey that God promised Moses. It was anything but a place of security and plenty.

People were frightened and despondent. It is easy to imagine the cynicism with which this prophet had to contend. It is easy to imagine the angry remarks of many of the people that God at long last had provided them with the freedom to go back home, but look at the home that God had prepared for them!

With his customary eloquence and directness, Isaiah insists that, in the end, God will make all things right. He will never forsake the people, no matter how bad the circumstances may seem to be.

For the second reading, the Church presents a passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. The Christians of Philippi were few in number by comparison, and their devotion to Christ made them more an exception in the community.

Paul encouraged and challenged these Christians. Strong in its message, the epistle employs the imagery of racing. Paul says that he has not yet finished the race, but he has his eyes on one sight alone, namely the finish line. When he crosses this line, in other words when he dies an earthly death, he will win because he will enter life everlasting.

For its third reading this weekend, the Church offers a section of St. John’s magnificent Gospel. It is a literary gem, presenting the life and teaching of Jesus with remarkable brilliance and appeal, clarity and pathos.

Certainly such is the case in this reading. By way of explanation, Jewish law and custom were hard on adulterers in order to secure the racial integrity of the people who were chosen to be God’s special people. (If an adulterous woman conceived outside her marriage and gave birth to the child, concealing the child’s true paternity, then the family’s identity would be compromised, and more broadly, the identity of the Chosen People might be in jeopardy.)

This mob, fervent and angry, was defying Roman supremacy by applying Jewish religious law, a great risk in itself. (Only the Romans could execute a criminal, and the criminal had to be judged according to Roman law.)

Yet, fearlessly, Jesus rescued the woman by forgiving her, admonishing her not to sin again, and reminding all of their own sinfulness.

Reflection

Only two weeks of Lent remain, but there is time to take advantage of this penitential season. Lent calls us first to recognize our sins, to repent of them and then to devote ourselves to God.

Essential to the process is the difficult task of admitting that we have sinned. The admission exposes our lack of wisdom, and it reminds us that we have harmed ourselves, perhaps mortally. We must acknowledge our limitation.

The Lord’s admonition to the woman guilty of such an awful offense shows that no matter the evil of a person’s ways, anyone can change with God’s help. God’s help awaits our request just as Jesus extended it to her.

Holy Week nears. The Church in these readings contrasts life and death in dramatic terms, so that God’s mercy will be put before us during Holy Week.

The Church implores us, come to God! †

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