Fifth Sunday of Lent
April 7, 2019
If you haven’t ever actually thrown a stone at someone…not to be mean, mind you…but because they deserved it, or at least you thought they deserved to be punished, well, then, you can probably stop reading this reflection. If you haven’t ever…in your entire life…not even for a moment, thought about picking up a stone to throw it at someone who has committed some offense that deserves punishment…then, just possibly, it would be okay for you to skip the Penitential Rite at the beginning of mass. If you never…not even once…judged someone else, or thought harshly of them, though I would definitely advise against it, but if you are that pure of heart…if you look at others with the forgiving eyes of Christ, then you might not even need Eucharist, because if you are that pure of heart, then you are already a perfect reflection of our God who is slow to anger and quick to forgive.
Is there anyone who can truthfully say, okay, I can stop reading? I can stop confessing? I don’t need the healing and forgiveness that comes from Eucharist?
The thing is…we all do it. We are all…each and every one of us…just exactly like those self-righteous, bloodthirsty hypocrites who pushed a woman to the ground, preparing for her execution. How often have you been totally blind to your own bad acts, but had an eagle eye on the faults of others, and an overly eager hand to pick up a stone and punish? I know this much for sure: You don’t need a 5-pound rock to inflict great bodily harm. Words can be just as lethal. Looks, smirks, cold shoulders can also do great injury.
But don’t even begin to think that this Gospel passage is from a time long past so we don’t need to take it literally. Don’t think that civilization has moved way beyond stoning people to death. In fact, just this past week, there was an international uproar over an announcement by an oil-rich East Asian Islamic country that makes certain violations of Sharia law, Islamic law punishable by stoning to death. We aren’t talking about some primitive, isolated culture. This is happening right now in a British protectorate that has significant investments in this country. The international group called “Human Rights Watch” characterizes this as “barbaric to the core.”
But, according to this passage from John’s Gospel, it would be permitted if, and only if, there is a totally innocent executioner to carry it out. But then, a person of pure heart, a total innocent…a perfect Christian…would not step forward to pick up a stone, because, like Jesus, they would be loving and forgiving.
Here is the critical takeaway from today’s readings: GOD IS A GOD OF NEW BEGINNINGS AND FRESH STARTS. Our creator does not prevent sin by killing sinners, but rather, by offering the grace to change. It wasn’t just the sinful woman who was given a second chance. Those who were ready to kill her were also given the opportunity to change.
BUT DID THEY?
Or, did they simply pocket their stones and their grievances and walk away unrepentant…waiting for another opportunity to attack?
SOME OF THEM DID.
Some of them were there on Good Friday, yelling, “Crucify Him!” We don’t know how the woman used her second chance…her new beginning. However, what’s important is how we will use ours. Will we walk away from here today and sin no more?