40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II Fifth Sunday in Lent-C, 03 April 2022 Isaiah 43:16-21 ><}}}*> Philippians 3:8-14 ><}}}*> John 8:1-11
From the joy of coming home to the Father last Sunday in the parable of the merciful father, we now celebrate the joy of meeting God in Jesus Christ in the story of the woman caught in adultery.
We are now into the final week of Lent, getting closer to the innermost room of the Father’s house but this time with John as our guide as we skip Luke’s gospel. The shift is hardly noticeable as the story of the woman caught in adultery seamlessly jibe with Luke’s parable last Sunday. The Pharisees and scribes are again present but this time more bold in their opposition to Jesus.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.John 8:3-6
Only John records this story of the woman caught in adultery but one can clearly recognize its similar tone and perspective with the parable last Sunday that only Luke had, the parable of the merciful father, more known as parable of the prodigal son. Both stories tell us the gospel of God’s mercy proclaimed in words and in deeds by our Lord Jesus Christ.
But what makes this story of the woman caught in adultery a stand out is its simplicity amidst the profound texts by John often identified as the beloved disciple. He was able to compact in few words and simple gestures the many realities in life we forget and take for granted.
As I prayed over this scene, one word persisted in my reflections: kindness.
The kindness of God.
The word “kind” is from kin or kindred as in family or tribe. When we say a person is kind, we mean that person treats us as one of his family, of his same kind, that he deals with us like we are not “others” or iba as we say in Filipino (hindi ka naman iba).
How sad that at the start of this pandemic in 2020, that was when all news and stories spread of how we have become so unkind with each other especially the poor, the sick and the old, children and women treated unkindly like Mang Dodong of Caloocan.
How sad that in our country, it has become a sin, an error or a failure to be poor and disadvantaged that even the poor and disadvantaged look down at each other, too! There is always that feeling among us that we are different, that we are not of the same kind that it has become so difficult to find kindness among everybody. We have forgotten we are all human, imperfect and sinful but also beloved children of God.
This is what the Sunday gospel is telling us: the woman caught in adultery is not the only sinner in this scene. John described her as “caught in adultery”, not merely an “adulteress” to show that she was in fact caught into adultery. It is a serious sin but there’s more to be caught in that act than meets the eyes. Here, there is no mention about the woman’s “lover”.
Like in our gospel last Sunday, we have the Pharisees and scribes present again, forgetting their very roles in the story itself. Recall that Jesus told the parable of the merciful father for them last Sunday to remind them that they were both the prodigal son and elder son. And that included us today, of course. Today, they are back and we wonder what were the evidence they have against that woman. Where were they while the woman was committing the sin of adultery? Were they peeping toms? Or worst, have they had some trysts with her too in the past?
Both the woman caught in adultery and her accusers, the Pharisees and the scribes stand for us all – we are sinners. We have all sinned and how dare are we to act like the Pharisees and scribes pretending to be different from others, to be so clean and pure when deep inside us are also rotten with sins that could even be worst than the people we accuse.
This is the reason why Jesus bent twice to show everyone how God had chosen to go down to us, to be like us in everything except sin so we can see again everyone as our kin, our same kind as children of the Father.
But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.John 8:7-9
Bending to washing of feet to dying on Cross.
In bending down twice, Jesus showed everyone – the accused and the accusers – the kindness of God, his being our kin, his being one of us even if he is Divine. To bend down is to go down, like Jesus coming down from heaven, being born as a child to show us that the path back to God is in being human which is underscored by Matthew in his genealogy of Jesus Christ at the start of his Gospel which is proclaimed every December 17 and December 24 Christmas Eve.
Here in this scene we are reminded by his bending as an imagery of the mystery of Incarnation just like his coming down to Jordan River at his baptism by John.
This bending of Jesus will happen again on Holy Thursday when he washed the feet of his apostles where he gave his commandment to love (hence, it is called as Maundy Thursday, from Latin mandatum for commandment). It will reach its highest point when he bent lowest on Good Friday by offering himself on the Cross for us all out of his immense love and mercy. And kindness.
That is the greatest expression of God’s love and mercy, in his kindness, in his becoming one of us in Jesus Christ who took upon himself our sins so we may be clean again and be able to rise and stand with dignity and honor as beloved children of the Father.
This is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words in the first reading that God is doing something new for us.
Jesus is not telling us to stop fighting sin and evil, to cease from pursuing criminals and people who have committed crimes and grave sins against us and others. The fight goes on but should always be tempered with being humane.
The beautiful story of how Jesus resolved the case against the woman caught committing adultery assures us of the endless mercies of God to us sinners, not a passport to sin. See how Jesus recognized the sinfulness of the woman when he told her, go and sin no more – the most humane reprimand perhaps in history.
It is only in our being kind like Jesus that we become truly human and humane.
According to John, the first to leave the site after Jesus challenged them to cast the first stone were the elders that may stand for having wisdom, not necessarily being aged. The first to leave the site were the wise, those who must have realized their own sinfulness and saw how gravely wrong they were in being so harsh with the woman.
Many times in life, it is difficult to be kind in this unkind world because we have stopped seeing our commonality, our shared humanity, our links with one another, our relationships. We have become so competitive that we always want to be distinct from everyone to the point that we have ceased becoming humans, playing gods most of the time.
The grace of this final week of Lent is the kindness of God that remains with everyone, even with the most harsh among us, the most sinful. Jesus is inviting us to bend down with him, see him even down below when we are in sins. He is not condemning us nor hurting us with words nor actions. Ever the most humble and gentle of all, our most kind Lord Jesus is telling us today to take up his yoke and learn from him, always kind with everyone.
And that begins with our very selves. Many times, we cannot be kind with others because in the first place we are so unkind with our very selves. We cannot see our true selves that we compete within ourselves, that we should be somebody else.
What a wonderful gift to be our true selves again and still loved by God.
Let us heed Paul’s call in the second reading: “forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead. I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
Have a blessed week ahead, be kind to yourself first of all. Amen.