5th Sunday of Lent
I don’t think it was just my school, but in the mid 1970’s they started teaching some very odd stuff in the religion classes. I remember today’s Gospel in particular because the teacher said (and you still hear it today sometimes) that the point is that no one can condemn or judge anyone because we are all sinners. I remember as a teenager thinking “well that’s nonsense – it means that unless you can find a sinless policeman, a sinless judge and jury of twelve sinless people you could never convict anyone of a crime. I asked the teacher “Sir, Jesus is without sin so why doesn’t he condemn her?” “Because” replied the teacher “Jesus is teaching us to be merciful”. “So” I said “Sir, if you catch me smoking behind the sports hall that means you can’t condemn me because you are not with out sin – and even if you were sinless you would still have to let me off because Jesus didn’t condemn” “You’re talking nonsense Farrell” said the teacher “No you’re talking nonsense Sir” Obviously it ended up with me being sent out of class. But I was right.
In this Gospel – the point isn’t you can’t condemn; the point is we are all sinners. We all stand before God as worthy of condemnation. Not just the woman, who Jesus acknowledges to be a sinner when he says “do not sin again” but even those who were to stone her. All of us are sinners. Jesus, who is God, has every right to condemn, for condemnation isn’t a malicious act – it is simply a recognition of the consequences of sin and the ultimate consequence of sin is that we no longer have the ability, the capacity to receive God’s love. Which is a posh way of saying Hell.
What is new in this Gospel isn’t that God doesn’t condemn, that God ignores the consequences of sin; rather it is that in Jesus God does recognise the terrible consequences of sin; he accepts it and removes it by taking it upon himself, he allows himself to be condemned instead of us sinners. Those words I do not condemn you can only be said because of the cross where the consequences of our sins are accepted by Jesus, where the damage is repaired, punishment is accepted, justice is satisfied, on our behalf and where we are offered life for death.
This is what causes St. Paul to say “everything is rubbish compared to knowing Christ my Lord. For him I accept everything, I want to accept his suffering, to reproduce the pattern of his death and thus take my place in the resurrection of the dead”. St Paul recognises that we escape condemnation because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
It isn’t forced on us, we must want it. If a person has no desire to know Jesus and is not interested in the sacraments, especially baptism, Holy Mass and confession then they take the consequences, they choose condemnation. But if in love, we try to know Jesus, open our hearts to him, follow him in his Church, if we take to heart his words to the woman, “sin no more” then we can say with St. Paul “not that I have become perfect yet – I am still running – but I forget the past and I strain on ahead for what is to come, I am racing for the finish. Trying to capture the prize for which Jesus captured me”. Let us give flesh to these words in this last week of lent.