Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 21, 2010 (Cycle C) Scripture Readings First Is 43:16-21 Second Phil 3:8-14 Gospel Jn 8:1-11 Prepared by: Fr. Lawrence J.

Donohoo, O.P. 1. Subject Matter

First reading: Second Isaiah counsels replacing memory with hope, the past with the future, and remembrances of God’s destroying Israel’s enemies through water that drowns with anticipations of God’s saving his Chosen People with water that quenches. Second reading: St. Paul counsels replacing earthly rubbish with divine treasure, self-bestowed justification with divinely bestowed righteousness, and concentration on past sins and triumphs with future grasp of Christ’s love and his salvation. Gospel: Jesus replaces the engraved law of condemnation with a disappearing text of mercy, stones with words, justice with mercy, and victimhood with personal responsibility.

2. Exegetical Notes
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Regarding Is. 43:16-17: “A series of participles answers the question Who is Yahweh? By portraying the exodus out of Egypt, ending in the final scene in which the Egyptians lie defeated.” (NJBC) Regarding Phil 3:8: “The Gk word skybala, means either ‘rubbish’ or ‘excrement’—in either case something that is disposed of irrevocably.” (NJBC) Regarding Phil 3:10: “To ‘know Christ’ means to experience him as ‘life-giving Spirit’ (1 Cor 15:45; 2 Cor 3:17), the one who here and now is conquering the forces of death and readying Christians for resurrection.” (NJBC) Regarding the Gospel: “This story did not find its way into mss. of the Gospel until the 3d cent. Though it fills a ‘gap’ by providing a narrative before the discourse of 8:12-59, it has none of the characteristic features of Johannine style or theology. . . .The story is a ‘biographical apophthegm,’ in which Jesus’ opponents set a ‘trap’ that he must escape through a wise saying or action. . . .Some NT mss. have this story after Luke 21:38. Its interest in Jesus forgiving a sinful woman reflects a theme that appears in Luke’s special tradition.” (NJBC)

3. References to the Catechism of the Catholic Church

711 “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” Two prophetic lines were to develop, one leading to the expectation of the Messiah, the other pointing to the announcement of a new Spirit. They converge in the small Remnant, the people of the poor, who await in hope the “consolation of Israel” and “the redemption of Jerusalem.” 428 Whoever is called “to teach Christ” must first seek “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus”; he must suffer “the loss of all things. . .” in order to “gain Christ and be found in him”, and “to know him and the power of his resurrection, and [to] share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible [he] may attain the resurrection from the dead.” 133 The Church “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. 989 We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives forever, so after death the righteous will live forever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day. Our resurrection, like his own, will be the work of the Most Holy Trinity. 1006 “It is in regard to death that man’s condition is most shrouded in doubt.” In a sense bodily death is natural, but for faith it is in fact “the wages of sin.” For those who die in Christ’s grace it is a participation in the death of the Lord, so that they can also share his Resurrection. 648 Jesus is conclusively revealed as “Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his Resurrection from the dead”. St. Paul insists on the manifestation of God’s power through the working of the Spirit who gave life to Jesus’ dead humanity and called it to the glorious state of Lordship. 580 The perfect fulfillment of the Law could be the work of none but the divine legislator, born subject to the Law in the person of the Son. In Jesus, the Law no longer appears engraved on tables of stone but “upon the heart” of the Servant who becomes “a covenant to the people”, because he will “faithfully bring forth justice”. Jesus fulfills the Law to the point of taking upon himself “the curse of the Law” incurred by those who do not “abide by the things written in the book of the Law, and do them”, for his death took place to redeem them “from the transgressions under the first covenant.” 2447 The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently.

4. Patristic Commentary

“There is no clear indication of why Jesus wrote on the ground. Patristic authors suggested Jer 17:13, ‘those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsake the Lord,” as the text that governed Jesus’ action. If so, it is an indirect reminder of the ‘guilt’ of those who are condemning the woman.” (NJBC) St. Augustine: “[Jesus’] bowing his head (to write on the ground) is an expression of humility; the writing on the ground signifies that his law was written on the earth which bore fruit, not on the barren stone as before.” Alcuin: “The mount of Olives also denotes the height of our Lord’s pity, olive in the Greek signifying pity. The qualities of oil are such as to fit this mystical meaning. For it floats above all other liquids, and the Psalmist says: ‘your mercy is over all your works.’ And early in the morning, he came again

into the temple: i.e. to denote the giving and unfolding of his mercy, the now dawning light of the New Testament in the faithful, that is, in his temple. His returning early in the morning signifies the new rise of grace.”

St. Augustine: “There were left however two, the pitiable and the pitiful.”

5. Examples from the Saints and Other Exemplars

In this year for priests celebrating the 150th anniversary of St. John Vianney’s death, we are reminded of the saint’s devotion to the sacrament of mercy. During the final decade of his life, he spent up to sixteen hours a day in the confessional.

6. Quotations of Benedict XVI

“Hosea above all shows us that this agape dimension of God’s love for man goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed ‘adultery’ and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: ‘How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! ... My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst’ (Hos 11:8-9).” “God’s passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God’s love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.” “The State must inevitably face the question of how justice can be achieved here and now. But this presupposes an even more radical question: what is justice? The problem is one of practical reason; but if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests.” “The judgment of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgment and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation ‘with fear and trembling’ (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our ‘advocate,’ or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).” “God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ. Both these things—justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. . . .Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened.” “Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is ‘mine’ to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is ‘his’, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot ‘give’ what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is

justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity, and intrinsic to it.” Justice is the primary way of charity or, in Paul VI’s words, ‘the minimum measure’ of it, an integral part of the love ‘in deed and in truth’ (1 Jn 3:18), to which Saint John exhorts us. On the one hand, charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples. It strives to build the earthly city according to law and justice. On the other hand, charity transcends justice and completes it in the logic of giving and forgiving.”

7. Other Considerations
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“The first exodus helped Israel to perceive what Yahweh was doing now, but it was also being eclipsed in a fulfillment beyond all hopes (cf. von Rad).” (NJBC) Second Isaiah addresses the issue of time—past, present, and future—in salvation history, and St. Paul addresses time in the spiritual life of the believer. In his reflection on time in the Christian life, St. Paul encourages the conclusion that faith is rooted in the past, love in the present, and hope in the future. Therefore, I need to live in the past, but in faith; in the present, but in love; and in the future, but in hope. I need to be here and now, but also return to my roots and reach toward my destiny. Just as I am to be all things to all people, so am I to be all of myself to all times. For our life of time is a reflection of eternity since time is the way we presently possess eternity. St. Paul shows us the way to be here and now, but thanks to the grace of God, always and everywhere at the same. . . time. The Gospel scene represents a trap situation. The scribes and Pharisees “expect Jesus to be a man just like them. Thus, they attempt to frame Jesus, contriving this false test in order to expose a double standard they hope to find in Christ.” (Cameron) Assuming that John understands Roman law correctly in holding that capital punishment was forbidden without imperial consent (see Passion account), the woman’s life is in no danger. Jesus’ is. The consequent dilemma for Jesus, like the question of whether taxes should be paid to Caesar or not, is whether he will support Roman law or Jewish law, thus challenging either his countrymen or his rulers. Perhaps on another level his opponents want to see the applications or limits of Jesus’ famous teaching on mercy. In either case, they are exploiting the woman instead of advancing arguments honestly. The dishonest behavior of the scribes and Pharisees manifests the very duplicity that they find in the woman’s adulterous conduct. But it is not she, but Jesus, whom they are really judging. Just as the woman was duplicitous with her husband, so these Scribes and Pharisees are duplicitous with their arguments. Jesus thus simply refuses to judge the woman falsely accused—in the sense that the issue is not really about her at all. His “judgment” is that his judgers are the really guilty ones. Their sin is exploitation. This Gospel does not exonerate us from our moral lives, nor from accepting or inflicting punishment on ourselves or others when the circumstances warrant. Instead, it exhorts us to see that the questions of mercy and justice do not lend themselves to a theoretical solution that dispenses us from the actual case here and now. Justice must start afresh every time it is wronged and an accused is brought forward to judgment. Justice is never easy. But nor are any things that are truly worth acquiring. It is not made any easier–or any less necessary–by the knowledge that the all-just One is watching.

It has been suggested that Jesus was writing the sins of the accusers in the sand. We do not know. What we do know is that the only words that the Word ever publicly wrote down disappeared before they could be recorded. “Christ says to the woman, ‘From now on do not sin anymore.’ These words are not an ultimatum but rather an authorization. Christ invests the woman with supernatural assistance and delegates to her the grace to life habitually in freedom from sin. The Lord thereby redeems her from the slavery to sin.” (Cameron) “[I]t is not so much our sin but rather the way that we respond to it that gives us the big picture of our moral condition. The guilt-ridden accusers skulk away in their shame like Judas from the Last Supper table (Jn 13:30). But the woman stays with Jesus without a word of denial or protestation on her lips about her sin. She is left alone with Jesus like one in love with God in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus is left alone with us to remind us of his mercy.” (Cameron)

Recommended Resources Benedict XVI. Deus caritas est. ___________. Spe salvi. ___________. Caritas in veritate. Brown, Raymond A., Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: 1990. Cameron, Peter John. To Praise, To Bless, To Preach - Cycle C. Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 2000. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels. Works of the Fathers. Vol. 2. London, 1843. Reprinted by The St. Austin Press, 1997.