Lent, 5th Sunday - homily
We all have one burning question after hearing this Gospel about the woman caught in adultery. We all want to know one thing, and can’t seem to ever get an answer. Whenever we hear this story, we all are dying to know…what did Jesus write on the ground?! It is unbelievable. I was talking with a friend the other night, telling her how amazing this Gospel story is. You have this great encounter between the woman caught in adultery, the Pharisees and scribes want to stone her, and…she interrupts me to say, “But, Father, what did Jesus write on the ground?”
So, I studied up on this question this week. I looked high and low, studying, researching, analyzing what the scholars have said. I finally can give you answer. I don’t know! No clue! No one knows, nor will we ever know, until Heaven, probably. No, I actually did find that the answer is that Jesus probably wrote nothing in the ground. He was probably just tracing figures in the ground because he was so bored and tired with the games and tests of the Pharisees and scribes. If you all had pens or pencils and paper, it’s probably what you’d be doing during my homilies!
This is an amazing Gospel story. We can put ourselves in the place of the woman caught in adultery in order to understand her situation, and see that there are some similarities and differences with our own situations. First, imagine that you had committed the worst sin you can think of, and everyone knew it! We try so hard to keep our major faults and sins from others; everyone knew the woman had committed adultery. And, it was one of the most serious sins, if not the most serious, at that time. There she is, in a public arena, with everyone looking at her with condemnation. But, Jesus very quickly makes it a private affair, and essentially telling all those who want to stone her that they should put down their stones, and walk away. He does the same thing for us with Confession: it is a private matter between us and Jesus.
This woman is humiliated, she is embarrassed. She feels very small. It is humiliating to acknowledge or to be acknowledged of serious sin. It is humiliating to go to Confession and admit what we’ve done wrong. But, for her and for us, the humiliation lasts only a few moments. And, now, this woman is exalted for all time! Like many other sinners to whom Jesus reached out, her story is recalled by the Church in the cycle of readings. This is one of the things that is “new” which God promises in today’s first reading: sinners, and those who are lowly will be shown mercy. Jesus tells us many times that those who are humbled will be exalted, and those who are exalted will be humbled.
She is on death row, this woman. She is about to be killed for her sins. It’s capital punishment. But, Jesus steps in and saves her. If it weren’t for Jesus, she would have been killed. He gives us the Sacrament of Confession to save us. He steps in so that we won’t be sent to spiritual death row. If we don’t go to Confession, we are on spiritual death row.
In my seminary training, this Gospel was a model for how to hear Confessions. Each time I hear a Confession, I use this as the model. To see how Jesus dealt with this woman, saying to her, “I don’t condemn you, but go and sin no more”. I’ve told you before I’m open for Confession 24/7 which means I am always here to offer you, not condemnation, but mercy. This woman experienced it: the power of God’s Mercy. She is a new person after her encounter with Mercy. The person coming out of Confession experiences this newness, too. It's God's Mercy– it's "new", and it’s awesome! I want to offer you His Mercy always.
Finally, in the words of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, we are to get “small” for Jesus. The woman from the Gospel gets small for Jesus. Next Friday -Good Friday- we will celebrate when Jesus got small for us. He was humiliated and embarrassed in his Passion and Death. When we come to Mass, we not only remember that he got small for us, we see him continue to get small for us. He gets about this big (the size of a small host) in the form of bread…he gets small so that he can come inside of us. He shows us the example that getting small in this life is key to being exalted in the next life.
There is a reward to being humbled. Christ himself has been exalted for his earthly humiliation. The woman who was humbled received the immediate reward of Mercy, and has now been exalted. Anyone who was humiliated for a few moments in Confession is rewarded with God’s Love and Mercy, and is exalted for all eternity. When we come to Mass and humble ourselves by kneeling in God’s presence, we are rewarded with the Eucharist - the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Whatever ways that we experience temporary humiliation for God in this life will be rewarded with exaltation for all eternity.