“I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”  Words from our 2nd reading today from the 3rd chapter of the St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.

The Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery before Jesus for judgment and Jesus says, “Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone at her.” There is a sudden silence. But then all at once a small stone comes flying from the back of the crowd aimed at the head of the woman, and Jesus promptly catches it. Looking at the lady standing in the crowd Jesus said, “Mother! Really! I was trying to make a point, here.”

Today’s Gospel often gets told as a story of forgiveness.  But Jesus does not actually offer the woman forgiveness.  Why is that?  Well, she may not have needed it in this case.  The circumstances of the story of the woman caught in adultery seem to suggest that there was more going on here than meets the eye.  The scribes and the Pharisees say the woman was caught in adultery.  But consider: why wasn’t the man she was with brought forward as well since the law required that he be stoned together with her?  And how would the many scribes and Pharisees have had “caught her in the very act”, at just such a time they also happened to be trying to trap Jesus into some misstep?  Indeed, who knows what happened behind closed doors?  At the very least there were many peeping Toms; at worst, she could have been manipulated into this and was raped.  While adultery is what is alleged, we have to admit that it could be as equally as likely that the woman was really a survivor of a sexual assault.  Jesus turns the issue back on the men and raises the reality of their sin.  “Are you without sin?” As they walk away from his challenge, Jesus seems to have said, “I didn’t think so.”  All of them seem to have been implicated in this in some way.  Often enough, people condemn others without first looking at themselves.  I wonder if, given the chance, we heard her side of the story what the woman would have said?  So, while no forgiveness is offered, Jesus is not condoning anything here either.  Beyond the particulars of this woman’s case and what actually transpired, self-righteousness, duplicity and double standards, and the violation of human dignity, all these things are sinful too.  Jesus is as stern as he is compassionate.  And yet, he transformed a hopeless situation and brought life out of certain destruction.  Moreover, he shows her how to embrace the new life God offers, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”  These are words for us as well.  As the woman was freed from their clutches receiving no condemnation, likewise we whose lives have been transformed by God’s grace are charged to stand and move forward in that life that has been won for us. 

As we look at our readings as a whole, we see that they indeed have us focusing on the transformation that God brings about.  Isaiah speaks about God’s promised transformation of Israel by providing the surrounding desert wastelands with life-giving water.  Isaiah implores the people not to remember the events of long ago but to see, see the newness God is continually bringing about.  Our first reading speaks of God’s power to transform the wastelands of our lives.  For us, we don’t have to be stuck in the past and the way things always were, for God is also doing something new for us today.  In our second reading, St. Paul is looking back at his old life and seeing it now through the eyes of faith.  We know that he was ambitious, looking to make a name for himself, and relentlessly persecuting Christians.  Well, all those things he did and maybe even then thought of as a gain, are in retrospect a loss to what he is about, and now seem like such rubbish and a waste of time, because they prevented him from attaining to the supreme good, that of a life lived with Christ.  To great personal effect, St. Paul speaks of his continuous pursuit to leave his old life behind, so that he may take greater possession of his new life in Christ still, come to perfect maturity, and at last attain to the resurrection of the dead.  Would that we today have that same realization for our God-given purpose and the zeal to live it out like St. Paul.  And again, Jesus transformed the fate of the woman who was caught in adultery, imploring her to go forward in a life away from sin.  For us too, at the beginning of Lent, we were charged to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” so as to receive and live out of the transformation God has brought about for us and for our world.

God’s grace brought about great changes in the desert wasteland, in the life of St. Paul, and in the life of the woman charged with adultery.  So, today we are asked to reflect upon our lives and search out God’s life-changing love.  Have we at times been too willing to ‘cast the first stone’ or have we hung out with the wrong crowd?  Is there anything that we are still attached to or any particular sin that is holding us back from the transformation that we are being called to?  What are our wastelands?  What do we ourselves need to do to bring about change, what supports do we need from others to help us in that, and what is that particular grace we need from God to truly bring about the transformation we need in our lives to attain to that supreme good of ultimately walking with Christ?  None of us is perfect.  None of us is without sin.  Life’s journey is an ongoing one with many obstacles, changes, and blessings along the way…  May we always press forward like Isaiah and St. Paul, so that our own journey to Easter and beyond will bring about that transformation within us and around us, that our own lives may be transformed, like the woman brought before us today, so that we too can gain Christ and attain all things in him. 

Fifth Sunday of Lent
Year C Readings

Lectionary: 36

Reading I

Is 43:16-21

Thus says the LORD,
who opens a way in the sea
and a path in the mighty waters,
who leads out chariots and horsemen,
a powerful army,
till they lie prostrate together, never to rise,
snuffed out and quenched like a wick.
Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
In the desert I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers.
Wild beasts honor me,
jackals and ostriches,
for I put water in the desert
and rivers in the wasteland
for my chosen people to drink,
the people whom I formed for myself,
that they might announce my praise.

Responsorial Psalm

Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6.

  1. (3)  The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
    When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,
    we were like men dreaming.
    Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with rejoicing.
    R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
    Then they said among the nations,
    “The LORD has done great things for them.”
    The LORD has done great things for us;
    we are glad indeed.
    R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
    Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
    like the torrents in the southern desert.
    Those that sow in tears
    shall reap rejoicing.
    R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
    Although they go forth weeping,
    carrying the seed to be sown,
    They shall come back rejoicing,
    carrying their sheaves.
    R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Reading II

Phil 3:8-14

Brothers and sisters:
I consider everything as a loss
because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things
and I consider them so much rubbish,
that I may gain Christ and be found in him,
not having any righteousness of my own based on the law
but that which comes through faith in Christ,
the righteousness from God,
depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection
and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death,
if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

It is not that I have already taken hold of it
or have already attained perfect maturity,
but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it,
since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, I for my part
do not consider myself to have taken possession.
Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind
but straining forward to what lies ahead,
I continue my pursuit toward the goal,
the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.

Verse before the Gospel

Jl 2:12-13

Even now, says the Lord,
return to me with your whole heart;
for I am gracious and merciful.


Jn 8:1-11

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area,
and all the people started coming to him,
and he sat down and taught them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery
and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him,
“Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”