April 3, 2022
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Jesus writes new rules for life in the venerable Jerusalem dust.
Jesus enjoys an early morning walk from the Mount of Olives to the Temple. The weather, no doubt, was typically beautiful since others easily gathered and sat around Jesus to hear his teaching.
But the Pharisees, vigilant for an opportunity to condemn Jesus, executed a mean-hearted plot.
Dragging a woman “caught in the act of adultery” before the encircled men, they demanded Jesus’s judgment of the distraught woman.
Imagine the woman’s terror. Her poverty and loneliness have already forced her into an ignoble commerce. Had she the chance, she surely would have chosen an easier life.
Now, her meager quarters have been broken into, her privacy invaded in the most intimate of circumstances. Her adulterous accomplice has either turned her in, or absconded in cowardice. She is surrounded by brutal accusers, many of whom are likely her former customers.
But Jesus sees the woman, not her sin. He responds to her heart not her actions. He also sees these evil, plotting men and responds to their veiled motivations.
Wouldn’t we love to know what Jesus scribbled in the Temple dirt as these blood-thirsty hypocrites hung over him?
Might it have been the names of those who also visited the woman on earlier nights?
Might it have been some of their hidden sins?
Challenged to cast the first stone if they were sinless, the plotters slowly slink away. Jesus is left to forgive and heal this suffering woman.
Jesus tells her to go and sin no more, to -as the first reading says – “remember not the things of the past”. Jesus has made her into a new person by the power of his mercy.
May that renewing Mercy touch us, and our world, where we sorely need it.
May it flow through our renewed hearts to everyone we encounter, no matter the circumstances.
Poetry: Two beautiful poems today. The first refers specifically to Rembrandt’s painting above:
Rembrandt, “The Woman Taken in Adultery,” National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London
by Peter Cooley, Senior Mellon Professor in the Humanities and Director of Creative Writing at Tulane University and lives in New Orleans.
Just as I came out of the Gallery, I saw a gull among hoards of tourists encircling the statue of Lord Nelson, crazed while I prayed he'd make it out, resume flight I attribute to all birds, boundless. But my dying: I try to keep it lined around the edges of the ordinary so I can—shall I say—appreciate? Drawn to that picture by the glowing dark around the woman, kneeling, Christ standing, the Scribes and Pharisees shrouded in black, I saw she, too, has just discovered light, knowing, moments ago, she escaped stoning. She just this instant came to where I'm going.
The second poem is by the beautiful Franciscan poet, Irene Zimmerman, OSF.
From the angry crunch of their sandaled feet
as they left the courtyard, Jesus knew,
without looking up from his writing on the ground,
that the Pharisees and scribes still carried their stones.
The woman stood where they’d shoved her,
her hair hanging loose over neck and face,
her hands still shielding her head
from the stones she awaited.
“Woman,” he asked, “has no one condemned you?”
The heap of woman shuddered, unfolded.
She viewed the courtyard — empty now —
with wild, glazed eyes and turned back to him.
“No one, Sir,” she said, unsurely.
Compassion flooded him like a wadi after rain.
He thought of his own mother — had she known such fear? —
and of the gentle man whom he had called Abba.
Only when Joseph lay dying had he confided
his secret anguish on seeing his betrothed
swelling up with seed not his own.
“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said.
“Go your way and sin no more.”
Black eyes looked out from an ashen face,
Then life rushed back.
She stood before him like a blossoming tree.
“Go in peace and sin no more,”
Jesus called again as she left the courtyard.
He had bought her at a price, he knew.
The stony hearts of her judges
would soon hurl their hatred at him.
His own death was a mere stone’s throw away.
Music: Remember Not the Things of the Past – Bob Hurd