HOMILY FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR C. Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:8-14 and John 8:1-11.

There was a tweet sometime last month by Harachi, expressing a rite in her culture that makes a woman run mad if she cheats in marriage. While the family of the man insisted that the rite must be done on her, the lady gave a condition that the same rite be performed on the man as well. We may ask, does this culture permit men to have extra-marital affairs while forbidding women? Or does the story of the woman caught in adultery support this kind of culture? As we gradually approach the paschal mystery of Christ, there is a paradigm shift from the tone of suffering to that of glory, and from the old law to the new law, which gives us hope for new things that are about to happen.

Isaiah in the first reading says, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I am doing a new thing… “(Is. 43:18-19). Before this, there was an allusion to Exodus in the first verses (vv.16-17). It seems odd that the Lord will say, “Remember not the former things.” It seems contradictory to remember the former things in one breath and then, in the next breath to ask people not to remember them. However, the prophet is calling the people to put their past behind them and to focus their attention on the present and the future. It is too easy to get lost in the past (to make too much of the past and too little of the present), to have one’s faith centered in the long-ago, instead of the right now. So, Isaiah calls these exiles to shift attention from the ugly past to see the amazing things God has planned for them in the future.

Behold, I am doing a new thing… I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (v.19). It will be the second Exodus experience of liberty. The new thing is that these exiles will not require a dry route through the water of the Red Sea, but will instead require rivers of water to sustain them in their journey through the desert. This reading is to restore our hope and give us reasons to continue on our journey this season. We are in the tunnel and are close to the end. We are in the darkest night and soon, it will be dawn. Despite the difficult moments of the present, God will put smiles on our faces again in a short time.

The gospel, like that of the prodigal son of last Sunday reinforces the interest of Christ identifying and keeping relationship with sinners. He does this not because he approves of sin, but that the sinner might turn away from sin and live. Today, the Scribes and Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery. The Scribes are expert interpreters of the Torah (law), and the Pharisees are well-known for their careful observance of the law. They insisted that the Mosaic Law prescribed to stone any woman caught engaging in extra-marital affair (Deut. 22:23-24). During this period, only the Roman government had the legal authority to exercise capital punishment. There are evidences that Jewish authorities, in violation of Roman law, executed women for adultery.

It is good to note that the law which required the execution of the woman also required the execution of the man who was her partner in the sin. But this story makes no mention of the man because the Scribes and Pharisees needed only this woman to execute their plan. It was not just the woman who was on trial here, but above all Jesus. We can imagine the shame and fear of this woman at this situation. The trauma of being caught with an unlawful person in such act and her sin being brought to the public. The charge of death penalty in a brutal manner within the next few hours. It is difficult to imagine how any person could be more miserable than this woman was at this moment. Her miserable situation never bothered her accusers. They were hell-bent on bringing Christ down through the woman, having placed him in a dilemma with that problematic question.

If He had denied them stoning her, they would accuse him of subverting the law and if otherwise, the crowd following him would be offended of His strict adherence to the law, which could have also pitched Him in conflict with the Roman authorities who alone had the prerogative to impose capital punishment. Instead, He bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground (v.6). What did Christ write? The fact is that we do not know what he wrote. However, Biblical scholars have interpreted a possibility of writing the names and sins of the accusers and he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast the stone at her” (v.8).

After her accusers had left, Christ did not ask the woman whether she was guilty or not. He already knew, and so He asked, “Has no one condemned you?” Then He said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and do not sin again” (v.11).  Christ challenges her to abstain from sin and offers her a chance for new life. Instead of condemning her, Christ restored her to life and she could say like the psalmist of today, “When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage, it seemed like a dream” (Ps 126:1). St. Paul in the second reading understood the worth of the new life offered by God in Christ and counted every other thing as loss. He urges us to forget what lies in the past and look forward to what lies ahead.

Hence, today’s liturgy invites us to restrain from judging and condemning others, to be careful of self-acclaimed righteousness which often presents us better than others and to be compassionate to people. The liturgy is not in any way supporting adultery or extra-marital/premarital affairs nor fornication. It forbids us both man and woman, from these and all related sins and expresses the unfathomable forgiving nature of God. It draws our consciousness to how we take our local or traditional laws to be more important to us at the detriment of God’s mercy and compassion. Lastly, Christ is saying to us like the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you but go and sin no more.

Happy Sunday!

Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ

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