5th. Sunday of Lent: Year C.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“The God of Surprises.”
When the people of Israel began to look back at their history, they wondered at what God had already done for them. Yet they also kept thinking that the Lord had done whatever he could and was in no position to do more.
The first reading is telling us that God is about to bring about an even greater salvation than the one carried out by freeing Israel from Egypt. This is the first surprise that is being revealed to us today.
In the second reading, we see Paul, a man capable of opening up his heart to the greatest of God’s surprises: the sending of his Son into this world.
The Gospel describes how Jesus treats those who commit sins. Here, too, the human way of thinking is totally upset: God is much greater than their hearts and he does not condemn anybody. There is, therefore, yet another surprise!
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation, are from the published works of priests who have, by their Divine inspiration, become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word, we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Allow the Spirit of God to break the chains that keep us from understanding and accepting the word of God.”
In spite of our goodwill, our passions and bad habits keep troubling us, that is why we are tempted to lower our arms and say: it isn’t worth fighting, nothing will change anyway.
People had told us that in the past God used to intervene to free the oppressed and to re-establish justice and to bring salvation, but we see nothing of this today. Has God forgotten his people? Wasn’t he heeding the cry of the oppressed anymore?
In today’s reading we find God’s reply to these anguished questions. “No need to remember past events – he tells the people of Israel – no need to think about what was done before. Look, I am doing something new, now it emerges; can you not see it?” What is the Lord about to do?
He will free his people from the slavery of Babylon and will lead them back to their country. In order to make their journey easy and their travelling pleasant, he will prepare a way in the desert. To quench their thirst he will provide water springs and they will drink at the same source with the wild animals, just as it used to be in the Garden of Eden.
All these are but images, of course, wonderful images that show us how God never forgets humankind. He did not intervene only in the past; he keeps on manifesting his love by performing new and surprising feats. We only have to open up our eyes to see them.
Dark memories keep us bound up in chains, but golden memories are a constant source of enrichment. Isaiah wants to move on from the humiliating memory of exile and to marvel at the new deeds of God.
In today’s Gospel we will have the chance of realizing that if we really can see and accept his way of acting, he will confront us with an upsetting salvation gesture that may even look “scandalous”, and is certainly new. Will we be able to see and accept it?
As a prayer for rain and a good harvest, the psalm celebrates the deliverance from exile, which God achieved on behalf of his people. God’s mercies in the past give ground for hope in our present distress.
In today’s second reading we hear of the example of Paul, a man who accepted the proposal of Jesus, breaking off links with the past and welcoming the uniqueness of the Gospel. He was a Pharisee, a strict observer of the law that he defended forcefully. He was convinced that salvation would be obtained by keeping all the traditions of the elders.
When he discovered Christ he accepted his proposal. From then on, all that he previously believed in has lost all importance and he came to consider it as “rubbish”. Paul’s move away from the comfort of the law was daring. He had been guaranteed safety by his knowledge and observance of the law and was considered justified by his life as a strict Pharisee. But he threw it all away in favour of faith in Jesus. Paul took a leap of faith, and it was a leap into true freedom at last.
All of us find it difficult to break with the past, to give up our pagan attitudes of thought that we took up during our spiritual infancy and that became so firmly entrenched in our hearts and minds.
It is not easy to accept Jesus’ way of thought: it is too new, too much in contrast with what we have been used to and what has always been right, logical and the accepted standards of society.
Paul forgets his past misdeeds to move ahead towards Christ and to be lifted upwards. ‘Preparation for Easter’ is a call to rise above the negative memories, which turn the heart to stone. Hard hearts put ‘condemnation on the lips’ and ‘stones of violence into the hand’.
One of the great obstacles to forgetting the past and leaving it behind us is sin, for sin is a dead weight. It chains us up and keeps us from moving ahead. It’s a failure that stands in the way of spiritual progress. It is a memory that we cannot dislodge by ourselves. This is where the Gospel offers help.
The theme of the mercy of Jesus towards sinners that we read last Sunday is seen here in another way. Jesus refuses to condemn to death a woman who had committed adultery. Between a blind application of the Law of Moses and the saving of human life, Jesus chooses to save life.
Jesus shows that the purpose of any law is really to promote life. The union between a man and a woman has been considered as sacred and willed by God from the very beginning. This union is blessed by God and yields fruit in bearing children and the personal fulfilment of the husband and wife.
When the people of Israel began to understand how much God wanted husband and wife to live in deep union, to “become one Body” (Gen. 2:24), they also realized that this union needed to be protected. When God made the Covenant with them in the desert, two of the laws concerned with the intimate relationship between men and women were given to people.” “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14; Dt. 5:18), and “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife” (Ex. 20:17: Dt. 5:21).
Like the other Nine Commandments, they are formulated negatively but are to be understood in a positive sense. The union between a man and a woman is not something to be taken lightly. It is to be protected at all costs. Throughout their history the people of Israel kept reflecting on the meaning and the practical consequences of the ‘Covenant with God’ for the different aspects of their lives.
In the Book of Leviticus they are presented as a set of laws, in the Book of Deuteronomy as a final advice Moses gave his people before his death.
For the people of the covenant, the sexual relationship of a man and a woman has meaning in their relationship to God who is holy and who has set them apart. The laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy foresee that both the man and the woman caught in a sexual relationship that is not according to the law are to be killed (Lv. 20:10-16).
This seems to be very harsh, but it shows again the importance that the Israelite society puts on marriage and the relationship within marriage. As in the case with other laws, these laws have the sole aim to protect and promote life because it is a God-given gift.
The accusers of the woman are in fact not keeping the law themselves; they bring only the woman and let the man go free. In our own societies sometimes we apply the law differently for men and for women. What actions do we tend to condemn and punish in women, while condoning them as normal in men?
The accusers of the woman seemed to be fascinated by sin. Perhaps some of us need to identify ‘hate-figures’ on whom we can project our own negative energies? The instinct to load personal guilt onto a scapegoat is as old as society itself. Righteousness without mercy is very cruel. But righteousness with mercy restores the ideal and offers hope in attaining it.
The accusers in their self-righteous blindness saw a sinner, but Jesus saw someone, who with love and encouragement, might sin no more.
Jesus turns the situation upside down when he invites the accusers to look at their own life and ask themselves: “Have I ever sinned and gone unpunished? Was it because I could hide my sin or because someone had mercy on me?”
Jesus presents one of the classic answers of all time to those who condemn: “If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Jesus is today inviting us to open our eyes and look through a window he is opening up on God’s Kingdom for all of us to see. That window is in the Gospel that we look at today is not just something from the past, but is the beginning of a reality that is right here and now when we celebrate Mass and the Eucharist together. That’s what doing this in his memory means – sharing the Word, the Bread and the Cup, signifying that we are all God’s children called into ‘One’ Family in Christ. The wonderful news for all of us is that Jesus is waiting for us in the ‘Sacrament of Reconciliation’ before Easter with his love and his mercy.
Jesus has liberated both the accused and the accuser. The woman is saved through his compassion, the accusers saved by being forced to face the truth about themselves. Jesus reveals the truth to all.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the 5th Sunday of Lent Year C, we reflect on …
Sun. … In the first reading, Isaiah describes the return of the exiles as a ‘new exodus’, even more glorious than the first one. This clearly shows how God never forgets humankind. He did not only intervene in the past, he keeps manifesting his love by performing surprising feats. We only have to open our eyes to see them.
Mon. … Dark memories from our sinful past bind us in chains; our golden memories enrich us; our faith and trust in God will free us. Isaiah wants us to move on from the recollection of our self-imposed exile and to now marvel at the new deeds of God that occur each day. Let us pray for God’s grace to put our past behind us and look forward with new hope and trust in God.
Tues. … Paul discovered Christ whilst on the road to Damascus to arrest all those who followed the ‘Way’. His discovery of the ‘Truth’ surpassed all that was previously important to him. Paul took a leap of faith into an unfamiliar allegiance in Christ. Paul committed his whole life to Christ in total obedience, trust and love. What are the issues in our lives that are preventing us from taking a similar leap of faith?
Wed. … Most of us find it difficult to break with the past, with our pagan attitudes and the ways of the world. It is not easy to accept Jesus’ train of thought: it is in sharp contrast with what we have been used to and what has always been considered acceptable society norms. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us on our ‘own road to Damascus’ so that Jesus will heal our blindness too.
Thur. … In the Gospel, the accusers of the woman have projected their own negative energies and thus demanded her punishment of death by stoning. Jesus tells us that ‘God’s Law’ needs to be understood in a ‘positive sense’. The positive observance of the Law leads to peace, joy, love, happiness and harmony. How do we apply God’s Law? Do we use it as a means to judge and condemn others, or do we use it to guide our brothers and sisters in the ‘Way”?
Frid. … The accusers in their self-righteous blindness saw a sinner, but Jesus saw someone who with love, compassion and encouragement, might repent and sin no more. This is a perfect example of understanding God’s Law in a positive sense. It is stated clearly in Ezekiel 18:32 : “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, says the Lord God. Return and live!”
Sat. … Jesus in his wisdom and compassion has liberated both the accused and the accusers. Jesus reveals the truth to all. The wonderful news for us is that Jesus is waiting for us in the sacrament of ‘Reconciliation’ before Easter with his compassion and mercy. He has called us; will we come to him?
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, we have been lost in our self-imposed exile and chained up in the darker memories of our past. Help us to move on in our lives with new hope and trust in You. Like St. Paul may we commit our lives to Christ so that we may always do Your will. We pray that on our ‘own road to Damascus’ our spiritual blindness and self-righteousness may be healed as well. Guide us always to observe Your Laws in a positive manner so that it may lead others to repentance and to follow our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. May we always remember that none of us are worthy to ‘cast the first stone’ or any stone whatsoever.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group. Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.
“Discovering the Truth through God’s living Word”.