Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent Year C
Theme: Sin No More
By: Fr. Gerald M. Musa
Homily for Sunday April 3 2022
The Wretched of the Earth (French, Les Damnés de la Terre) was a book written by a psychiatrist, Fantz Fanon in 1961. In that book, Fanon exposed the disastrous consequences of colonialism on people. He raised awareness about the damaging effects of the structure and culture of violence created by colonialism. He prophesied about new ways in which colonial masters would continue to exploit former colonies. Fanon was deeply concerned about the liberation of former colonial territories from the shackles of exploitation. Many years before Fanon was Prophet Isaiah who offered hope to the Israelites who were wretched from the miserable experience of being in exile. The Israelites were worried about their past misdeeds; they were discouraged in that dark moment and their morale was low and thought God had abandoned them. The prophet tells them to look to the future with hope as God will mercifully deliver them from exile. God assured them, “See, I am doing something new…In the wilderness, I make a way” (Isaiah 43:19).
At one time or the other, we have experienced various forms of wretchedness, spiritual, financial, psychological, and otherwise. Conversion begins when we discover and admit our wretched condition. St. Paul admitted his miserable condition saying, “Wretched man that I am! (Romans 7:24). Peter discovered his wretchedness when he came in contact with Jesus and he exclaimed, “What a wretched state I am in! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.” In the 18th century, John Newton discovered his wretchedness and wrote a song that is one of the most popular Christian songs, “Amazing Grace’ in which he thanked God for saving a wretch like him. Mary J. Blige, a famous music artiste who had once experienced a wretched life released a song in 2001 titled, No More Drama. In that song, she made a definitive statement about opening a new chapter in her life. According to her song, “It feels so good when you let go of all the drama in your life, now you are free from all the pain, free from all the game, free from all the stress…Only God knows where the story ends for me, but I know where the story begins; it’s up to us to choose whether we win or lose, and I choose to win.”
There is a story in the Gospel of John where the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman who was wretched by her sinful condition. They said to Jesus, that this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. Imaginably, she was brought before Jesus with disheveled hair, half-naked, and a bewildered face. They expected a knee-jerk reaction from Jesus. As a Rabbi Jesus was aware of the Jewish law against adultery which says, “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the man and the woman who have committed adultery must be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10). Jesus wisely said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her…They went away one by one beginning with the eldest” (John 8:7,9). He neither condemned the woman nor her ‘condemners,’ rather, He gave the woman the opportunity to start afresh, to begin again, and to change. Jesus was neither condoning sin nor giving the woman a license to continue a sinful life. He demonstrated loving tolerance toward the woman. He knew that the strategy of rash judgment, throwing stones, and condemnation bring shame and frustration to a sinner. What is more effective is rehabilitating the sinner with love.
An uncritical mind would easily conclude that the compassionate attitude of Jesus condoned adultery. However, His strict teaching regarding adultery shows the contrary. He had said in His sermon on the mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27). In the case of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus took the path of compassion and not that of legalism. His action tallies with the wisdom that says one cannot throw away the baby and the bathwater. Besides, he applied the law of mercy which demands that one should hate the sin, but love the sinner. After all, his action corresponds with God’s method of handling sinners. “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; I desire that the wicked turn from his evil ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). He treated the woman according to His mission: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17).
Jesus’ advice to the woman caught in adultery, ‘Go and sin no more’ re-echoes His words to the man who was healed, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you’’ (John 5:14). Furthermore, “Go and Sin no More” could be interpreted as going forward and not being deterred or held by a sinful past life. The Apostle Paul explains the meaning of going forward after liberation from wretchedness. Having been a beneficiary of God’s mercy and delivered from his wretchedness, Paul boldly wrote, “But, one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
Besides, ‘Go and Sin no more’ challenges us to live wisely and be more committed to doing good. “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing what is good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14).
More still, ‘Go and Sin no more means to press forward, believing that God has forgiven our past sins and remembers them no more. We hold ourselves down when we continue to think that God holds any sin against us even after we have confessed and repented. St. John Paul II says, “The fact that we have had a stormy past should not frighten us. Storms that were bad in the past become good in the present if they encourage us to reform and to change; they become jewels if they are given to God” (St. John Paul I). We all have a wretched page in our lives that we wish to tear away, but we often forget that no one is perfect. Oscar Wilde, an Irish Poet, and Playwright says, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” We either press on with what lies ahead or be withheld by our past transgressions and mistakes?
The compassionate attitude of Jesus toward the woman caught in adultery should help us to change our judgmental attitude towards sinners. How compassionate are we to people who have committed grievous mistakes and are trying to gather the broken pieces of their lives? How do we treat teenage girls who mistakenly got pregnant while in secondary school? Do we count ourselves among stoners or consider ourselves as agents of mercy? When Jesus tells us to go and sin no more, he knows that many other temptations and trials await us, but he expects that we continue to struggle to live a holy and happy life.
Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11; 5th Sunday of Lent