Sunday, 7 April 2019 : Fifth Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this fifth Sunday of the season of Lent, we are just one week away from the beginning of the Holy Week on Palm Sunday, the beginning of the most important week and time in our entire liturgical year. And traditionally this Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Lent is also known as the Passion Sunday, marking the beginning of the two weeks Passiontide period spanning the period from today to the Resurrection of Christ at Easter.

At this occasion therefore, the Lord wants each and every one of us to delve deeper into the mystery of His Passion, suffering and death on the cross, as we approach the time when we will commemorate the most important events in our history, the time when God Himself willingly gave His all and fulfilled the promises that He had made with our ancestors, the promise of salvation and liberation from sin, and the promise of freedom from the tyranny of Satan and sin, and to make with us a new and everlasting Covenant.

That is why today’s Scripture readings focus on the love and mercy of God being shown and made evident before us, from the promises that God made to His people through the prophet Isaiah in our first reading today, where He reminded them of the many wonderful things that He had performed and done before them, since the time of their ancestors, and how He has loved and blessed them ever since. God wanted to show His people that His love and mercy is ever trustworthy and ever good.

And then, the Lord showed it firsthand through what we have heard in our Gospel passage today, when the Lord Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who wanted to corner and trap Him in an impossible situation, by bringing into His presence a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery, and asking Him what should be done upon that woman. Their plotting and opposition were truly sinister and wicked, and we will go through the reason why.

First of all, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were hoping that Jesus would side with the woman who had been caught in adultery, based on how He has often spent His time in the company of sinners, people like tax collectors and prostitutes, with people who were sick with various diseases, those who were considered unclean in body and in spirit, all those who have been spurned and rejected by the society and looked down upon as sinners.

And if the Lord sided with the woman, by forgiving her outright and ignoring whatever the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had accused her for, then they could quickly seize on the opportunity and discredit the Lord Jesus, labelling Him as a friend of sinners and as a blasphemer, for allowing sin to continue to exist. This would have immediately brought a great problem for the Lord, Who would then lose His credibility, following and even trust by the people. And He could even be condemned by the authorities for such an action.

But then, if the Lord so chose that He would punish the woman in accordance with the Jewish customs and laws, then the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law would also seize upon the opportunity to enhance their own position and prestige, by pointing out that in the end, the Lord Jesus was no different from them, and probably was a usurper and a fake who is trying to seize the teaching authority from the Sanhedrin or the Jewish elite, and He would have also ended in trouble for this choice of action.

Clearly the Lord Jesus was trapped and cornered by the action of the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law and all those who have opposed Him. But the Lord then made a move that His enemies did not anticipate at all. He asked that the one who was without sin cast the first stone at the woman, for the punishment for adultery according to the Jewish laws and customs was stoning to death. And the people gradually left the place, beginning from the oldest to the youngest.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what we have just heard and witnessed from the story in our Gospel passage today is the sad reality of our human life and our actions towards one another. We like to point out the shortcomings and faults in others, and we want to see others fail and we find joy in causing hurt and suffering in others, just because we hate or dislike the other person, or think that we are better than them.

That was how the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were capable of doing such a heinous and wicked act, in trying to frame and discredit the Lord Jesus, by trapping Him in what was to be an impossible situation. But the Lord knew all that were going on in their minds, all their plots and thoughts, and surely, He must have been very sad to see many of His people behaving in such a way, condemning sinners and being selfish in their attitudes towards others.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we see today, the great mercy of God as we saw how Jesus was merciful towards the woman who was caught in the act of adultery. When all the people who wanted to condemn her had left, and no one threw the stone at her, the Lord told her to go and change her life, no longer sin but obeying God’s will from then on. And just as none of the people condemned her in the end, He Himself said that neither did He condemn her.

This is a reminder to each and every one of us, that first of all, each and every one of us are sinners, and all of us are in need of God’s healing and help, for otherwise, sin will become our undoing. And no one can heal us from our sins, except for God. For it is He alone Who is able to forgive us from our sins and restore us to the state of grace in Him. Sin is indeed a very dangerous disease that is slowly destroying us and corrupting us from inside out, often without us realising it.

And that is why, today through the passages, we are reminded to come to seek God’s forgiveness and mercy. And then, as we are all sinners, none of us have any rights to condemn and be judgmental on others, just as what the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law had done, in wanting to condemn the woman to death, and having that sinister intention to discredit the Lord Jesus by using that opportunity.

That was why, the Lord Jesus said, ‘Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone’. This reminds us that before we accuse others and try to make others look bad or suffer, or punishing them for their faults, we must always try to contemplate deep in our hearts, and think whether we have sinned or done the same fault ourselves. When we point a finger to judge and demean others, do we realise that the other four fingers are pointing to ourselves?

We know of one parable of Jesus, where it was said that ‘Remove first the splinter from your own eye, before trying to remove the plank from your brother’s eye’. A lot of us have this hurt and angst within us, in our relationships towards each other, to our friends, to our family members, to the members of our community, and frequently, within our Church ministries and organisations, in our parishes and in our faith communities and groups.

And that is caused by the pride that we have within us, in refusing to admit that we ourselves are not perfect and we ourselves are in need of the same healing that the other person is needing. We often think that others need to change to suit what we want or what we expect of them, but how many of us actually stop to think that we ourselves are in need of a similar change in our own lives? When we allow ego and pride to take charge of our thoughts and actions, we will end up doing exactly what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had been doing.

Let us instead follow the example of Christ, Who forgave and healed the adulterous woman from her sins. He told her to go and sin no more, and that is what we should be doing as well. God is so merciful and loving towards us, even towards His enemies, that when He was on the cross, He forgave even all those who have condemned Him. He, the Perfect One, willingly took up our imperfections and sins, and be punished for them, all because of His love and tender mercy towards us.

Are we able to follow Christ’s loving examples in our own actions in life? Are we able to reach out to all those whom we have hurt and who have hurt us, and forgive each other? This is one important challenge that I think we should take up in this remaining time of Lent, as we prepare ourselves to enter into the mystery of the Passion, suffering and death of Our Lord. It is essentially all about God’s love and generous mercy towards us.

Let us all look towards the cross of Christ, on the Lord crucified. Let us all look at how wounded He is, and realise that each and every one of those innumerable wounds are our own sins, that God has willingly taken up on Himself, that each and every one of us may be healed. Let us all be ashamed at our sinfulness, but with the hope that Christ will heal us from our sins, and instead of being prideful and judgmental to each other, let us all help each other to overcome the temptations of sin, and be loving and forgiving at all times, as Christ Our Lord Himself has done.

May the Lord our God continue to love us, and may He continue to shower us with His love and mercy. May God guide us always in our journey of faith towards Him, each and every days of our life. And may all of us be prepared to enter meaningfully into the commemoration of Our Lord’s Passion, suffering, death and resurrection. Amen.

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