5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C (2)

We’re two weeks away from Easter Sunday, and, as Paul describes in today’s Second Reading, we must forget what lies behind and strain toward what lies ahead. Our Lord wants to create something new in us during these last days of the Lenten season, and requires leaving some things behind.

In today’s First Reading we’re reminded by Isaiah that the past of slavery to sin and distress in the desert is being left behind to pave the way for something new. He starts by recalling the escape through the Red Sea that meant liberation for the Israelites, “the people whom I formed for myself,” and destruction for the Egyptians, “a powerful army.” As the story of Exodus would later reveal, the Israelites still thought of returning to Egypt often, tired of hardship in the desert. They were willing to sacrifice their new-won freedom just to avoid discomfort.

The Lord today encourages them and tells them the desert itself is being transformed. This is something new, created by Our Lord. Even in the desert signs of hope begin to appear. Lent is like a hard journey through a desert, but the desert also represents our earthly life, plagued by difficulties, temptations, and trials. Our life here and now has been transformed into something new by Our Lord’s victory over sin and death. We just have to leave sin behind and strain toward what he offers us.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul describes well what how should consider anything in our lives, past, present, or future, that don’t lead us to Christ: refuse. Even the great St. Paul in his earthly life didn’t see his work of answering Christ’s call as done. He knew Christ was calling him to something greater, but he had not yet attained it. Paul “strained” toward what lay ahead; that meant he put his whole self into it.

In Lent we strain as well, striving to go above and beyond our normal spiritual life so that we draw closer to Christ and truly grow spiritually. We don’t just strain because pushing ourselves any harder is beyond our abilities; we also strain because of the weight of what we cannot leave behind: our old life of sin and selfishness. That’s why Paul doesn’t mince words when he labels those things as “refuse.” We must leave them behind and forget them so that we can move forward.

In today’s Gospel we’re reminded in the story of the woman caught in adultery that the opportunity to strain ahead and let Our Lord created something new in our lives is also thanks to his mercy. The Lord helps us know what we truly must leave behind, even at times when we don’t see it. The scribes and Pharisees are looking for a trial, and they have the criminal who was caught in flagrante delicto and the Law on their side. The adulteress knows that too, which is why she is silent. She knew her fate was now out of her hands.

The Law prescribed that a just man to pronounce sentence on her. When they invited the just man, Jesus, the man without sin, to come forward and throw the first stone, they found themselves on trial too. They’d only come to trap Jesus in the situation, to put him on trial. They weren’t really seeking justice. They came to him as if they considered him a just man, but their actions showed they were sinners just like the woman they were condemning. They wanted a rubber stamp or a political scapegoat, not justice, and so Our Lord revealed to them that they were the most unjust of men, and they skulked off, one by one, until only the adulteress remained, alone before the only just person who could pronounce a verdict.

We stand alone with God. The other voices, one by one, leave and attend to their own consciences, knowing that they can only judge themselves so much before the case comes to the Divine Judge. In the end we too will stand speechless and hopeful for mercy, just like the adulteress. Ashamed and silent, sorry for what we have done, we must stand before Jesus and answer for it in the light of day.

Each “jury” member that had been united around condemning another walked off alone. No one wanted to face up to Jesus for what they had done; they changed their vote with their feet. The adulteress was ready to accept her judgment. Jesus confirmed the jury’s revised verdict: since they had un-decided to condemn her, he would not condemn her either, but he also told her the truth about herself, just like he always does in each of our hearts: “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

What are you having a hard time leaving behind? Today’s readings remind just that Lent is not just a time for easing off on things we normally do, but a time for leaving things behind that prevent our spiritual growth. Your Lenten resolutions, if properly chosen, help you to see the things you must leave behind to strain toward a deeper friendship with Christ. It may take a long time to leave something behind, but with Our Lord’s help, you will.

Readings: Isaiah 43:16–21; Psalm 126:1–6; Philippians 3:8–14; John 8:1–11. See also 5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C.