Homily for March 13

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent
Scriptures for today's Mass

Audio for homily

The story of the woman “caught”
in the very act of committing adultery
is notable for several reasons,
not the least of which is the total absence here
of the man with whom she was caught.
No one’s picking up a stone to throw in his direction,
wherever he may be.

But the story is notable in another way, too.
Who among us hasn’t at one time or another been “caught”
doing something wrong.
It might have been something as simple
as being caught, as a child, with a hand in the cookie jar
but even then there was something especially painful
about being caught “in the act.”
Found out… recognized…. discovered… exposed…

There comes with such an experience not only the reality of guilt
but feelings of shame as well.
Guilt is a sense of responsibility or remorse
for some offense I’ve committed
while shame is the painful feeling arising from the consciousness
of my having done something dishonorable.

In many instances, shame lingers long,
even years after my feelings of guilt have faded away.
When one is caught in the act of doing something wrong,
guilt and shame are sometimes two sides of the same coin.
Such was likely the case for the woman in today’s gospel account.

In addition to her being guilty and feeling ashamed,
those accusing her are publicly shaming her
with their self-righteous taunting and judgment. 
And they bring this woman to Jesus,  hoping to test him, to trip him up,
to make him decide between Roman law
which denied the Jews the right to capital punishment
and the law of Moses that required it in the case of adultery.

And then Jesus does a notable thing:  he ignores everyone.
He ignores the crowd gathered there,  
he ignores the scribes and the Pharisees,  he ignores the woman
-- and he bends down
and starts doodling on the ground with his finger.
Only when pushed by the religious establishment does Jesus speak
and then only to shine the light of judgment
directly on those who were judging the woman.

Caught –or not - in our own sinfulness, yours and mine,
our offenses and guilt exposed or carefully hidden,
our shame private or public,
into each of our lives comes the same Jesus
who entered the life of the woman in the story.
He comes not to accuse, not to judge, not to condemn
and certainly not to shame us.
Recall the words from today’s first scripture:
Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!

Jesus comes into our lives not to tally up our sins
but to make things new:
to forgive, to pardon, to heal and to restore us to peace
with God, with those we’ve hurt and with ourselves.

A good confessor does as Jesus does.
A good confessor pays no undue attention to the penitent’s sins.
He’s not there to accuse or judge or condemn
but rather, in Christ’s stead, to offer mercy, pardon, healing
and reconciliation with God,  one’s neighbor and one’s self.

In confession, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation,
sin is forgiven, guilt lifted and, as we open ourselves to God’s grace,
even shame is slowly but surely washed away.
In confession, God lays aside our sins, as the psalm says,
as puts our sins as far away from us “as the east is from the west.”

Imagine how great, how deep, how breathtaking must have been
the peace and relief of the woman in the gospel story
when Jesus walked into her life?
With that same mercy, with that same peace and relief,
Jesus is waiting to walk into your life and mine this Lent:
in our prayer, in confession and here at the altar.

Gathered around the Lord’s table here,
we are the one’s “caught” in our own sins
and Jesus waits to forgive us, to deliver us from our guilt
and to cleanse us of our shame.

May the prayer we offer here open our hearts
to long for and to receive the mercy of Jesus
once poured out for us on the Cross
and now waiting for us in the sacraments.


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