Neither do I condemn you - Fifth Sunday in Lent 2016

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Neither do I condemn you - Fifth Sunday in Lent 2016


The prophet declared in the first reading today: “No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before. See I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light; can you not see it?”

We all have a past. We all have a history. Our life’s journey has shaped and formed us. There are many good things in us that are a fruit of our past. There are many points of weakness that have been shaped by our past.

Are we determined by our past? We hear people say, “I can’t help it, it is the way I am”. Once we say this we are saying that we are stuck with what we have become. We may try to improve ourselves, but we have the sense that it is really just tinkering on the edges.

Let us look at the incident in the Gospel today. It is a powerful and compelling story.

The woman was probably well known to the people who dragged her before Christ. She had been caught in the very act of committing adultery. There could be no question of her guilt. She may have been known as a loose woman. She deserved the full weight of the law to be directed to her – she was to be stoned to death.

There was a proud righteousness about the scribes and Pharisees. These religious leaders saw their role as stamping out moral transgressions. They were to punish offense. They were fully justified in their own minds for deciding that this woman deserved to die.

They dragged her before Christ. They saw that they could get political mileage out of this case. Not only would they eradicate this public sinner, but they could trap this upstart preacher, Jesus of Nazareth. Would he go against the Law and be shown as someone overriding the Law of Moses?

They could catch him out and discredit him if he opposed their actions. It was a cleaver move.

One could imagine the chaos – the poor woman being publically humiliated, the scribes and Pharisees worked up in righteous anger, the accompanying crowd wanting to see what would happen.

In this tumultuous situation, Jesus stops, remains seated and begins to write in the dust at his feet. Silence descends. Everyone waits to see his response.

They challenge him – “well, what do you say?” Thinking that they have him. Confident that he will not be able to get around this trap they have set for him.

With evident calm and gentleness of disposition that disarms the built up anger and emotion, he says, “If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”. The crowd had judged and condemned her, but they all had their own secrets, their own failures, their own sins. They melted away.

The one who knows that he is a sinner is most able to emphasise with the sins of another: “There but for the grace of God go I”. A deep personal knowledge of our own sinfulness breeds humility and fosters compassion. The one who is self-righteous stands in judgement on his fellow man. He readily finds fault and delights in the sentence being passed on those who have been found out. He stands in the safety of the crowd and bays for blood.

This year has been declared a Year of Mercy by Pope Francis. This is a time to examine our own hearts. How much mercy is there in my heart? Do I take note of the faults of others, ignoring my own – seeing the splinter in the eye of my neighbour and not seeing the plank in my own? Do I gossip about the failings of others, ready to pass on to others what I see as the shortcomings of people around me. Do I complain about what others do, ready to see their faults and overlook the goodness in them. Do I readily condemn others for their faults? Do I stand in judgement on others?

We all, at times, stand with the Scribes and Pharisees, rather than be moved with compassion for the one who is being condemned. We fail to align ourselves with the All Merciful God.

And the woman herself – what would have been her reaction to hearing the words of Jesus: “Neither do I condemn you, go away, and sin no more”?

She knew that at that moment she was forgiven. Mercy was given her. Would she have resumed her former ways? I doubt it. Something would have happened in her heart. Grace had flowed to her. She would have felt loved and respected by the Lord. She knew that her sin was not excused, but that she was forgiven. She had another chance. She was given a new sense of her worth and dignity. She was being set free and healed. She could change. She was not determined by her sins. She was capable of something better.

This is what mercy does. It not only forgives, but more importantly it restores.

We can recall the story of the woman who came in and wept at the feet of Jesus. The comment that the Lord made was that she loved much because she was forgiven much. Mercy transforms the human heart. It softens the built up hardness. It is a light that shines amid a growing interior darkness. Mercy sets the heart free from self-condemnation.

People who experience mercy are changed by the experience. The prophet said: “No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before. See I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light; can you not see it?”

So let us seek mercy. Let us not allow this Lent to pass without seeking mercy in the one place where we are guaranteed to receive it: the confessional. Never let us say that we cannot change. Never let us surrender to a sense of our own hopelessness. Let us never fall into self-condemnation.

The Lord says to each of us: “Neither do I condemn you, go away, and sin no more”. Neither do I condemn you. Neither do I condemn you.

Let the Lord say these words to you. Go to confession. Come before the all merciful God who waits for you.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 12 March 2016