By Father James Rodriguez
Just last Sunday, priests and deacons around the world wore rose-colored vestments and preached on the joy present in the midst of Lent’s sadness. We bade farewell to March with the prodigal son, feeling the father’s warm embrace.
This Sunday, the fifth in this season of penitence, we return to the somber violet color that marks our mourning. We look to the cross on the horizon, now closer than it was last week. As it comes into greater focus, so too does our awareness of our need for the good news of forgiveness and salvation.
Today’s readings each point backward from that moment of redemption, that moment when Jesus changed everything.
Through Isaiah, God speaks of “something new” marked by “rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink.” As you listen to the readings, or perhaps re-read them alone or with your family after Mass, notice the use of the present tense: “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” For God, all of time – past, present and future – is flattened into this one singular moment of grace in which ancient prophecy is fulfilled and His promise comes true.
He, who spoke distinctly through each of the prophets, calls out to us through Isaiah, our Advent companion, to strengthen us in moments of despair when we can be tempted to feel that our desert wandering will be permanent. In the wasteland of difficult times, this “valley of tears” can seem interminable, but out of Christ’s pierced side a river flows to wash clean a painful past: “the things of long ago consider not.”
Guests of Grace
We need no longer be prisoners of guilt, but guests of grace.
The refrain of today’s psalm serves as both a summary and a reminder: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”
Here once more we look backward from the perspective of the saved, recalling the joy and relief God brings. A psychology professor once told me that for a person struggling with depression, one of the greatest challenges in therapy is coming to believe that the future can be better than the past. Indeed, in the midst of our suffering it can be very difficult to recall the “great things” God has done for us, and trust that the best is yet to come so long as we remain at His side.
However, doing so can help us to see both past and future in a sweetly blinding new light. We can “bless the Lord at all times,” both good and bad, believing that He is always at work in us.
St. Paul says as much to the Philippians, going so far as to consider “all things … so much rubbish” in comparison to friendship with Jesus. St. Paul, as we will see in a few short weeks, had an Easter perspective. He looked back on his life as one illuminated by the pervasive and purifying light of the empty tomb, which leveled the mountains of guilt in his heart and made straight the way of the Risen One, making him and everyone who follows an “ambassador for Christ.” Only then was St. Paul able to lean “forward to what lies ahead,” while “forgetting what lies behind.” In this light, he knew his vocation, his “upward call” – to carry the gift of friendship with Jesus to every corner of a world darkened by sin and sadness.
Like a ray of light piercing heavy clouds, Jesus offers the same gift of forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery. Most of us can recite by heart the majority of the story, down to the timeless words: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Where we often fall short is the second, and no less tender, part of his healing call: “Do not sin anymore.”
“But we are only human,” our hearts reply, forgetting that the words came from the only fully human person to have ever lived since Adam before the fall.
With the Blessed Mother, Jesus offers us a new look at humanity, a powerful vision of a people who, embracing our redemption, make a concerted effort to take His forgiveness to heart and allow it to change us.
People often associate the woman in today’s Gospel with Mary Magdalene. Perhaps this connection was borne out of our need for examples of the power of forgiveness – saints like her who were just like us until something amazing happened to change everything. May He who spoke forgiveness into her heart and ours, the One who takes away the sins of the world, lead us into the heart of the Father anew, that we might sing a song of salvation to a world desperate for good news.
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Isaiah 43: 16-21
Psalm 126: 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Philippians 3: 8-14
John 8: 1-11
Father Rodriguez is the parochial vicar at St. Teresa, Woodside.