Today is Passion Sunday – a turning point in the Season of Lent. In the first four weeks of lent, we have been concerned with personal conversion and Repentance – now we focus on the passion and Death of Jesus.
In the Gospel today, we find Jesus sitting within the temple precincts. The temple of Jerusalem was the most holy place in all of Israel. It was the center of the Jewish religion. It was the place where the law of God was revered. It was the place where animals were sacrificed to God.
On that sacred ground, no compromise with the truth was possible. Jesus was sitting in this holy place when his enemies marched in, dragging a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. She stood there frozen in fear, certain of death under the law, even though she hasn’t yet been tried. Her sanctimonious accusers, (their rocks in hand, were ready to administer the death sentence.
The accusers were more distressed by the woman’s breaking of the law than about her well-being as a person. They cared nothing about the circumstances of the sin: whether it was a single occurrence or an ongoing relationship, whether the presence of witnesses meant that she was a victim of entrapment; whether she was sorry for her sin or not.
Her accusers were concerned for only one thing; using her to set-up a trap for Jesus; “so that they would have something to accuse him of.” The woman was their victim, but she was not the real target of their hatred! It was Jesus whom they were out to entrap. They knew well how he was with sinners – how gently he judged – how easily he forgave.
They were out to trap him by his very gentleness and discredit him as an enemy of mosaic law. This meeting was to be the clash that would nail Jesus to the cross – it was the perfect black and white situation!
The woman had broken the law of God and would have to be stoned: it was the law of Moses and could be backed up by the authority and law of Moses! At first, Jesus refused to respond to the crowd’s demand that he approve this harsh sentence. Then, without a word, he stooped down and began to write on the ground.
We don’t know what he was writing. It could have been the sins of the onlookers, or it could have been his way of expressing anger at the religious leaders who had been so heartless.
But Jesus evaded their trap. “let the one among you who has no sin cast the first stone at her.” Jesus was not suggesting that her accusers were all guilty of adultery. He was saying that their spiteful, self – righteous spirit was sinful in itself. what the woman needed was forgiveness and healing – not punishment.
Against sin Jesus was uncompromising: but with sinners, he was and still is compassionate. In this holy season of the passion, we need to take our place alongside of that woman caught in adultery. We need to admit that we are weak and that we are sinners! We need the sacrament of confession.
Saint Pope John Paul II wrote: “contemporary man and woman seem to find it harder than ever to recognize their own mistakes and decide to retrace their steps and begin again after changing course”.
Jesus wants to see us so that he can tell us person-to-person, heart-to-heart what God the father said to the people in the days of the prophet Jeremiah, namely: “I will make a new covenant with you… I will place my law within you, and write it upon your heart… I will forgive your evil – doing and remember your sin no more”
In the sacrament of confession, Jesus looks right through our sins to draw us to himself – so that he can embrace us in his love and make us whole once again.
In our second reading today, Saint Paul speaks of the importance of knowing and accepting Jesus Christ. Faith is not memorizing a list of doctrines to demonstrate our religious superiority like the pharisees. Father, faith as Pope Francis said is a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.
The secret to that kind of relationship is the sacrament of confession. On Wednesday evening there will be a penance service here at the Basilica. There will also be times for individual confessions during holy week.
During these last few days of lent we can do nothing that will benefit us more than to come and see the compassionate Jesus who says: “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners”. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by! Stand beside the woman in today’s gospel so that you too can experience Jesus’ great love, healing and forgiveness.