5th Sunday of Lent

First reading: 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.

Second reading: 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.

Gospel: 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.”

In other words Fr. Emil Pati, SVD (SVD PHN Provincialate, San Fernando, La Union)

Before getting ordained priests, we, the 19 SVD deacons and classmates from other seminaries, had to undergo oral exams to earn the faculty to administer the sacrament of confession. The panel of examiners were three brilliant professors of the Divine Word School of Theology, Tagaytay City. Acting as a penitent, one of them knelt beside me, trembling (acting). He made the sign of the cross and, with a low but clear voice, stuttered, “Father, forgive me…” then proceeded to enumerate his sins. “I told lies, I cheated, I fought with my sister, I also committed adultery. That’s all father.” After commending his sincerity, I asked for some clarifications, so the appropriate advice could be given. So, I inquired if he is married. “No, father, I am only twelve years old!” “Aha, but the sin you confessed like ‘adultery’ is for married people who are adults, so what did you mean by adultery?” “Father, I watched a video ‘for adults only’ with other boys,” he said. And you know who was this professor of mine pretending to be a young boy in the exams? No less than one of the most talked-about Cardinals in the Church today, Antonio Luis Cardinal Tagle. I might have hit the nail on the head for I received my faculty for hearing confession that day.

The woman in the Gospel today was accused of committing adultery, and according to the law of the Jews, she was to die by stoning. The Pharisees and the Scribes who had condemned many adulterous people before grabbed the case on hand to trap Jesus. Actually, they were not interested in what Jesus had to say; all they wanted was to put Jesus off balance. Should Jesus agree to the stoning, he would most probably lose his good name with the crowd and no longer be seen as the merciful miracle worker. While if he disagreed with condemning her, then they would be able to accuse him of going against the law. To solve the dilemma, Jesus bent down and, with his finger, wrote something on the ground. When forced to give the verdict, he told all that anyone who had no sin be the first to cast the first stone. And there you are! AS stated, beginning from the eldest, they dropped their stones and disappeared quickly… silently. Actions speak more than words indeed! They realized that while pointing a finger to the woman, three other fingers of their own pointed at themselves. It finally dawned on them that they are all sinners.

Finally, Jesus addressed the woman, “Is there no one left to condemn you?” She answered, “No one, sir.” He said, “I am not going to do that either.” And he said not only to her but to all those who were in the same position as she was, “(Go) and sin no more.” If we were in the crowd that day, would we be judgmental as the Scribes and Pharisees were? If Jesus were to write our own sins on the ground for all to see, how would we respond? The 1st and 2nd readings urge us not to mind the past, the dark side of life, but brace ourselves for renewal, and then receive forgiveness, especially through the sacrament of Reconciliation. Lent is a time to drop stony hearts, time to walk away from sinfulness, and to remind ourselves of God’s unconditional compassion and mercy.

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