by Father Walter Ray Williams
Fifth Sunday of Lent, C - March 28, 2004
As we contemplate the scene in today’s Gospel, it is easier then for us to understand how St. Paul could speak so forcefully about his devotion to Christ. For there, in this scene with the woman about to be stoned by her accusers, how attractive is the character our Lord! Note the almost hidden points in the account. First, the scribes and Pharisees claim that according to the law of Moses such a woman as this caught in adultery should be stoned. The Mosaic Law says no such thing; it says, rather, that those, man and woman caught in adultery, should be stoned to death. Since the Pharisees were not really interested in real Mosaic justice, they grabbed the more vulnerable sinner and let the man go. For what they were interested in was trapping Jesus into denying the Law of God given to Moses. The woman, for them, was mere bait in the trap. And Jesus superbly dodges their trick by not justifying adultery and at the same time shaming them, the accusers, as well as making a very important truth known.
He shamed them by suggesting that the one without sin should cast the first stone at the woman. How embarrassing! Sinners have no business condemning sinners. Then our Lord commands the woman to avoid sin. His defense of her is no excusing of the sin. It is forgiveness of the sin. And finally, Jesus is revealing a very important point, the point, I believe, about today’s readings: He was showing forth the new thing that God had promised in the first reading -- “See, I am doing something new!” And here it is. Oh, it’s easy enough to condemn a sinner, especially those sinners whose struggles are so obvious to others. But here is the hard work, the new work that God promised through the prophet Isaiah: the work of forgiveness of sins, and not only the forgiveness of them but the removal of them, victory over them, a riddance of them. Condemning and even destroying the sinner is simple enough; but God in Jesus Christ and through His Church, has taken on the grand project of saving the sinner from his sins. That is, the making of the sinner into a new creature, a new person, new in Christ. “See,” God spoke through His prophet, “I am doing something new!” You, my brothers and sisters, you and I are that project. We are the sinners -- yes, all of us -- whom God wants to make completely new.
No wonder St. Paul could wax so eloquent about the glory of Christ, for all this new work has been accomplished in and through Him. We mustn’t forget that Paul was at one time a Pharisee, and a good one, a devout one. He loved the law of Moses and the prospect of living up to that law. But on the road to Damascus, on his way to hunt down followers of Jesus and imprison them, he was struck down on the road by the most glorious and blinding of lights -- the light of Christ in His resurrection glory. And there, in the dust of that road in Palestine, all Paul’s dreams of self-righteousness from which he could so easily condemn others melted away in that searing light of the Savior. And Paul became a new man in Christ.
From that encounter, the great Apostle became aware of God’s plan to make all things new; he saw this when he saw the resurrected Christ. Christ is that work. Christ is the new thing of God. Christ is that “something new” that Isaiah could only dream about. All through the Gospels we see this newness in action as Jesus heals the sick, raises the dead, casts out evil spirits and pronounces the coming of the Kingdom of God. And finally, we watch in the Gospel story the culmination of Christ’s work on earth, how He is brought before the Roman governor, unjustly condemned (there’s that word again), and crucified. All the excitement of His healings and other miracles died away in that moment of seeming defeat. Until the Third Day. Until the first Easter. All the wonders of His miracles then became only small foreshadowings of this most wondrous of events -- the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
Now the new work of God is finished. It’s all accomplished in Christ so that even death itself is conquered in His resurrection. It’s all done. Except for in us. In us the work remains. Not of condemnation as the woman caught in adultery with her accusers. But of salvation. The work that remains is for all the newness -- this new thing accomplished by Christ -- to be made complete in us. As St. Paul described it, “It is not that I have reached it yet, or have already finished my course; but I am racing to grasp the prize if possible, since I have been grasped by Christ....I give no thought to what lies behind but push on to what is ahead. My entire attention is on the finish line as I run toward the prize to which God calls me -- life on high in Christ Jesus.”
The new thing that God has done is the work of Christ that enables us to become new in Him. Hints of it are all through the Gospels -- Jesus’ healing and other miracles. He spoke this message of the new to the woman caught in adultery -- not condemnation but salvation; he assured her that not only was she not condemned but that she didn’t have to go back to her old ways. This new thing done by God is finally displayed in power in the resurrection of Christ. And that is our hope: in this life to hear the forgiving words of Christ (like the woman in the Gospel), to know freedom from sin, to share, as St. Paul wrote, in Christ’s sufferings by being formed into the pattern of his death, and to one day, again as St. Paul described it, to know Christ fully and the power flowing from his resurrection.
“See, I am doing something new!” See Christ. See the Cross, see the empty tomb. See the Eucharist, His presence with us. See this something new, and step into it. The new thing has been done, in Christ. God waits to accomplish it fully in us.