Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fifth Sunday in Lent

March 17, 2013
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

Jesus turns the table on those who condemn the woman caught in adultery, saying, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The elders walk away followed by the younger men who have their hardened hearts softened by the sage words of Jesus. Jesus, as teacher and interpreter of the law, does not condemn the woman, but sends her on her way as one who is redeemed.

Presumably she returns to her husband and children, if she has a family, while the adulterous man returns to his. The commotion in town exposes both individuals to public scrutiny and we can assume word of their actions and infidelities travels fast. Relatives, in-laws, and friends are now asked to follow the teachings of Jesus by forgiving the offenders and welcoming them back into their good graces.

Sexual sins are never really about the physical actions performed, but are always about the relationships that are altered. Adultery places at risk the spouse whose affection is alienated. Withdrawing love from a person in a committed relationship and shifting it elsewhere creates havoc for those dependent upon financial, emotional, spiritual, and psychological support. Alienating affection places spouses, children, and relatives at risk. Adultery is not merely about two people; it affects many others in the community. Jesus, however, restores the prior relationships of the two caught in adultery in order that the original friendships are restored.

Sexual sins are not about clinical actions. Sex, even though it conveys intimacy, is often about power dynamics and can be misused. It is best for one to know when one’s freedom is imperiled and when one is acting against one’s freedom. Force or persuasion is contrary to freedom and one really has to check to see if one’s consent is freely given. Consent does not always imply freedom. Jesus restores freedom, honor, and dignity to the adulterous woman and sets in place the conditions to welcome her back into the community.

An important aspect of the actions of Jesus in this scene is that he becomes the lawgiver. The community comes to him to interpret the Mosaic Law and he upends it. He proves that he is wiser and stronger than Moses because Moses was an agent of God, who was asked to bring the laws to the people. He is a messenger and promulgator, but he is not God. Jesus takes it a step further. He is not acting on God’s behalf; he is acting as God. God was the one who wrote the law onto the tablets. Jesus is writing, that is, performing a divine action, in the sand. Laws pass through Jesus because he is the unique revealer of the Father in heaven.

Through his actions, Jesus is restoring the order God intended. He is telling people that by condemning others and governing by the letter of the law they are missing out of the mercy that God requires. Sexual sins do not rank as high as other more basic sins, but we decide to hold onto those when it is to our advantage and we typically do this when we experience a power imbalance. Jesus places God’s priorities before us for our consideration, but we can’t see them until we let go of our sense of order and balance.

Sin is a failure to bother to love. When Jesus sets the woman free from judgment, he permits her to love and be loved once again. The order is restored. All can now live in freedom with a new compass to measure actions: a merciful, redeeming love that we can give to one another. Living by such a standard makes it unlikely to freely, willingly violate these standards again. The woman is free to sin no more and she has motivation to live by life-giving possibilities.

The Lord says, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not.” The restoration that comes from a merciful, redeeming love creates unheard of, unforeseen possibilities for a better life. We will be able to hear the Lord say, “I open a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters…. See I am doing something new.” We can echo the words of St. Paul, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection,” for he reminds us of one thing: “forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goad, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”

Ah, the gift to accept rather to judge leads us to the risen Christ.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In Daniel, Susannah’s story is told. She is an unjustly persecuted woman whose honor is saved by Daniel who exposes her persecutors’ lies. In Numbers, when the wandering Israelites pass near the Red Sea near Edom, venomous snakes bite many, which precipitates Moses to erect a bronze serpent for the people to gaze upon and thereby live.  In Daniel, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar sends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into deadly fire, but the three men are untouched. In fact, Nebuchadnezzar swears that a fourth one, who appears like the Son of Man, is standing in the fire with them. In Genesis, Abram is renamed Abraham and is given the covenant with long life and many descendants to follow his lineage. In Jeremiah, the servant who suffers and experiences terror realizes that he can endure humiliations because God, a mighty hero, is with him. In Ezekiel, God collects the children of Israel from many nations and forms them into one. God will be their father and they shall be his children.

Gospel: In John’s Gospel, the woman caught in adultery is brought to Jesus for stoning, which Jesus does not do. He declares he is the light of the world and that his works testify to his father. Jesus announces that he is going way and they will look for him, but cannot follow him. He declares that he is, “I am.” While many believe in him, some turn away. Jesus appeals to their Abrahamic paternity and he tells them he knows Abraham, whose children would not be trying to kill him. In fact, Abraham rejoices because he saw the day of Jesus. This news becomes too much for the people and they begin to pick up stones to throw at him. They wanted to arrest Jesus, but he eludes them and returns across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized. Many come to him. Meanwhile, the chief priests and Pharisees convene the Sanhedrin to determine what they will do about Jesus. Caiaphas says that it is better for one man to die instead of the people, so that the whole nation does not perish. Jesus no longer walks about in public but retreats to Ephraim to remain with his disciples. The Passover of the Jews is near.

Saints of the Week

March 17: Patrick, bishop (389-461), is the revered Apostle of Ireland and patron saint of many U.S. dioceses. He is credited for bringing the faith to all of Ireland. He was abducted and enslaved at age 16 by pirates and taken to Ireland where he worked as a cattle herded and shepherd in the mountains. He escaped after six years and eventually returned to his native Britain where he became a priest. Pope Celestine sent Patrick as a missionary to Ireland to evangelize them. Though he was under constant risk from hostile pagans, he converted many of them and developed a native clergy by the time of his death.

March 19: Joseph, husband of Mary is honored today for his support of Mary in their marriage. He is portrayed as a righteous man who obeys the will of God. Therefore, his ancestry is upheld as a virtuous stock through which God’s promises come true. We seldom contemplate his marital relationship to Mary and his responsibility to love and raise Jesus as his son. He was a descendent of King David and a carpenter or builder by trade. In Matthew's dream sequence, Joseph was embarrassed by Mary's pregnancy before their marriage, but went through with the wedding because he was a righteous man. He considered dissolving their marriage because of Mosaic Law, but is told in a dream to take Mary as his wife and to raise Jesus as his own. He is honored as the earthly father of Jesus.

March 23: Toribio of Mogrovejo, bishop (1538-1606) was a Spanish law professor in Salamanca who became the president of the Inquisition in Granada. As a layman, he was made the Archbishop of Lima, Peru and became quickly disturbed at the treatment of the native populations by the European conquerors. He condemned abuses and founded schools to educate the oppressed natives. He built hospitals and churches and opened the first seminary in Latin America.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Mar 17, 1964. The death of Joseph O'Callahan. He was awarded the US Medal of Honor for heroism as chaplain on the USS Franklin, off Japan on March 19, 1945.
·      Mar 18, 1541. Two letters arrived from Lisbon from Francis Xavier. One was addressed to Ignatius, the other to Frs. LeJay and Laynez. They were written just before his departure to India.
·      Mar 19, 1836. By imperial decree, the Society was allowed to re-enter the Austrian dominions.
·      Mar 20, 1602. The first "Disputatio de Auxiliis" was held before Clement VIII. The disputants were Fr. Gregory de Valentia SJ and Fr. Diego Alvarez OP.
·      Mar 21, 1768. In Spain, at a special meeting of the Council of State in the presence of King Charles III, the Suppression of the Society was urged on the pretense that it was independent of the bishops, that it plotted against the State, and that it was lax in its teaching.
·      March 22, 1585: In Rome, the three Japanese ambassadors were received by Fr. General with great solemnity in the Society's Church of the Gesu.
·      March 23, 1772: At Rome, Cardinal Marefoschi held a visitation of the Irish College and accused the Jesuits of mismanagement. They were removed by him from the direction of that establishment.