13 March 2016: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Is 43:16-21  Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6  Phil 3:8-14  Jn 8:1-11


Lent: something new is coming

During Lent RCIA catechumens (those awaiting baptism) pray and study to prepare for the Easter Vigil’s Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist). This week the Lectionary readings invite RCIA participants and all of us in the believing community to consider the meanings of sacraments, especially baptism.

In the first reading from the second Isaiah, the prophet envisions the Jewish people’s return from exile in Babylon as a new Exodus. God will give people new signs–water in the desert, rivers in the wasteland. The closer we get to Easter, the more we hear about water. The waters of the first Exodus and today’s new Exodus prefigure Easter’s baptismal waters, where God does “something new” by washing away sin, adopting catechumens as God’s own children, and incorporating them into Christ’s mystical body.

In the second reading, Paul responds to the Philippians and to the gnostic visitors who are “correcting” Paul’s teachings. These visitors tell the Philippians that in baptism they have already achieved resurrection and are already perfected (complete) Christians. Paul explains that everything before his encounter with Christ and his metanoia–including his life and work as a devout Pharisee–“counts for nothing.” Righteousness comes not from Mosaic Law, but only from God through “faith” and “being conformed to Christ’s death through his sufferings.” Paul tells us that he has not yet attained resurrection or Christian completeness, but he continues to strive toward those goals.

In John’s gospel, the scribes and Pharisees attempt to trap Jesus so they can “bring some charge against him.” Their pretext is a woman caught in adultery.

  • The charge and punishment: The Torah defines adultery as a capital crime, punishable by stoning (Dt 22: 22-24, Lev 20:10) for both the man and the woman.
  • The trap: The scribes and Pharisees know Jesus must either support the Torah and allow the woman’s execution, or go against the Torah and give them a reason to discredit him (or worse). Instead, Jesus chooses a third option.
  • Jesus’ answer: According to the Torah (Dt 17: 6-7), the witnesses who testify to the accused’s guilt are the ones who begin the execution. Jesus reframes the accusers’ testimony by calling attention to their own guilt before God.
  • Scribes’ and Pharisees’ response: The accusers, scribes, and Pharisees drift away, “beginning with the eldest.” They leave either because their plan has failed, or because Jesus has made them confront their own sinfulness.
  • Jesus’ judgement: The Greek text says literally: “No one judges against you? Neither (do) I judge against you.” Jesus offers the woman a new start: “Go and do not sin any more.” Jesus calls her to turn away (metanoia) from sin and turn toward God’s infinite mercy.

Throughout Lent RCIA participants contemplate their upcoming sacraments; the Catholic believing community reflects on the sacraments’ ongoing mysteries. Sacraments occur at a specific point in time but their effects last through time. The baptismal waters are only a beginning. With Paul, we live in the already and the not yet: through sacraments we encounter God, but we are not yet completed Christians. Through sacraments Jesus offers us a new start: metanoia. Are we watching for the new things God is doing?

–Terence Sherlock

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