The Scripture readings of the fifth Sunday of Lent continue to offer lessons about God’s startling mercy and compassion. God does not dwell on the sins of the past but rather offers hope and salvation to those who rely on God’s graciousness and forgiveness.
In the first reading, the author of Deutero-Isaiah (Is 40-55) proclaims a message of extraordinary hope and encouragement to his fellow exiles in Babylon. The prophet urges his fellow captives to not dwell on the past but rather to look to the future. God promises to open a way in the sea and a path in the desert. Whether in the wilderness or in the wasteland, God will provide water for the people to drink and safely guide them home. God says, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” For the detainees and refugees in the foreign land, the dream of returning home was simply inconceivable.
Yet, nothing is impossible with God as the poet of Psalm 126 so beautifully attests. This marvelous psalm portrays a people who have been captive and are now free to return home. Their release and return are so extraordinary that it is as if they are in a dream. Startled by a sudden reversal of fortune, which is described in symbolic language of sowing in tears and reaping in joy, their response is simply: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad indeed.”
The theme of mercy and forgiveness is continued in today’s Gospel reading. Whereas the Gospels of the other Sundays in Year C are taken from Luke, this one, on the fifth Sunday, is from John. It is the well-known story of the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus does not condemn. This episode is strikingly similar to the motif of the readings of the previous two Sundays: the call to conversion in Luke 13:1-9 (third Sunday of Lent) and the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 (fourth Sunday of Lent). Its similarity in tone and perspective makes us feel like we are still in Luke’s Gospel. In fact, biblical scholars think that this passage was not originally part of the Gospel of John but was later inserted by an editor. Whatever the case, Jesus’s opponents brought a woman who has been caught in the act of adultery and asked the question of what ought to be done in this case. According to the Law of Moses, those caught in the act of adultery were to be stoned to death. Under Roman occupation, however, the Jews did not have the authority to execute people. It seems that Jesus is in a quandary for either answer, yes or no, will support the opponents’ case against him. Jesus avoids the trap by offering an answer that was not anticipated. He told them that the one without sin should cast the first stone. With that response, they dispersed one by one, beginning with the elders. With no one remaining to condemn the woman, Jesus too refuses to pass judgment on her and offers her a new beginning.
Jesus’s act of kindness is a profound lesson in divine mercy and forgiveness. May we learn from the lesson of today’s Scripture readings to avoid dwelling on the sins of the past but rather always offer hope and healing to those who rely on our kindness and compassion.