5th Sunday of Lent

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

St. John Mary Vianney, the Patron of parish priests, would hear confessions for as long as sixteen hours daily. People from all over France would go to this small parish of Ars just to go to confession to him. This did not please the devil who was losing his followers to this humble priest. To keep him from hearing confessions the next day, the devil would disturb his sleep, even going as far as burning his bed. It is only fitting that during this Year for Priests, the Church honors this holy priest who exemplified the ministry of forgiveness.

The gospel this Sunday relates the beautiful story of Jesus forgiving the adulterous woman. Last Sunday, we heard the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus not only told a story of forgiveness. He actually forgave a sinner who by law ought to be stoned to death. According to the religious custom of the time, a married or betrothed woman can be accused of adultery if caught with any man, married or unmarried. On the other hand, an unfaithful husband may be accused of adultery only if caught with a married woman. It needs the testimony of two male witnesses to convict the accused of the crime.

Normally, this woman should have been brought to the Sanhedrin, a group of religious elders who pass judgment on most cases (capital punishment was for Roman authorities). However, they brought her to Jesus. They wanted to trap him. Had he judged that Jewish law should be followed, he then he would be in defiance of Roman authorities and be accused as a rebel. Had he exempted the woman from Jewish law, he would lose credibility as a religious leader.

Jesus wrote on the sand before giving an answer that caught caught them by surprise, “Let the one among you who who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn. 8:7). The woman’s accusers left one by one as Jesus continued writing on the ground. When only the woman was left, Jesus asked, “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 anymore” (Jn. 8:11).

Jesus advised the woman not to sin again. He did not approve the sin, but he showed mercy to the sinner. As for the woman’s accusers, he redirected their judgmental frame of mind. Instead of judging others, they should judge themselves. We do not know what Jesus wrote in the ground. An ancient tradition opined that he wrote the sins of the accusers for all to see.

If the parable of the prodigal son and the forgiving father was almost unbelievable to his hearers, this real-life situation of the adulterous woman illustrates what forgiveness, kindness, and compassion means.

Lent is a penitential season. In some way, if we search our heart we would find there that there are aspects of our life where we do not live as we ought. There are many ways of descibing sin. St. Paul speaks of it as missing the mark. The more common understanding is breaking the commandment. Many of the prophets speak of unfaithfulness or breaking the relationship with God. St. Thomas Aquinas describes it as an idolatry, “aversio a Deo, conversio ad creaturam,” turning away from God and turning toward creatures. Some contemporary writers speak of sin as an addiction, a preference and enslavement to lifestyles or things, rather than life with God.

Whatever is our concept of sin, in general, it is the realization that something is not right with our life. It is in Jesus that once more we are made right with God. He forgives our sins.

Action starter: Make a daily examination of conscience.