Sunday Sermon for April 3, 2022, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C
Readings: Is 43:16-21; Phil 3:8-14; Jn 8:1-11
In the first reading the Lord does something very interesting. He begins by pointing out the events that occurred in the Exodus, specifically the events that took place at the Red Sea when the waters were separated and the Egyptian military, horses, and chariots, went into the midst of the open sea in pursuit of the Israelites. This point is important to note because so much of the identity of the ancient Israelites was based on the events of the Exodus.
The covenant with Abraham is, of course, the defining moment for the Israelites, but the extraordinary occurrences that took place in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the desert help to shape the identity of the Israelites as the people of God. The passage we are given in the first reading comes from the time when the people of Israel were returning from their exile in Babylon. The extraordinary manner of their freedom from Babylon reminded the Israelites of their privileged status as the People of God. Nonetheless, they knew that, unlike how they came to Egypt, they were in exile in Babylon because of their sins.
It is in this context that we must understand the first reading. This is why what follows is so startling. The Lord says the people are not to remember the events of the past and they are not to consider the things of long ago. If the events of the past are what helped to shape and define the Israelites, who are they if they no longer remind themselves of the previous happenings? God answers this question by telling the people He is doing something new. Then He asks them: “Do you not perceive it?”
There is no way they could perceive the newness of what God was doing if they define themselves by the past. As great and important as those past events were, the people had to move beyond them. This is not to suggest that the people were to deny what happened in Egypt; rather, it is a suggestion that if they hang on to the past, whether good or bad, it will serve as something of an anchor and the people would not be able to move forward.
St. Paul teaches us the exact same lesson in the second reading. He says he forgets what is in the past and strains forward to what lies in the future. This past certainly includes his life in Judaism, but in a particular way, it implies the various sins of which he was guilty. We recall that for a Pharisee, which is what St. Paul was before his conversion, righteousness was based on following the Law. It was not the Law that made one righteous, but carrying out the precepts of the Law by the individual person.
St. Paul states that he now has no righteousness of his own, because now his righteousness comes from God. This righteousness comes through faith which leads one to share in the sufferings of Christ while looking forward to the resurrection. St. Paul does not deny who he was in the past or how he lived as a Pharisee, but this is no longer how he defines himself. He now identifies himself with Christ and recognizes the immense dignity of being a member of Jesus. Since the work of the Christ took place in the events of the Passion, crucifixion, and resurrection, St. Paul, defining himself in Christ, desires to share in the Lord’s suffering and death in order that he will share also in the resurrection.
In the Gospel we hear about the woman caught in adultery. When she was neither stoned nor condemned by the people who brought her to Jesus, the Lord told her that he did not condemn her either. However, He did add: “Go and from now on do not sin anymore.” How easy it would be for this woman to define herself in a negative way based on her sins. With her sins forgiven, she needs to resist looking backward and defining herself by her past, and instead, look forward to the reward of Heaven and define herself according to her newfound freedom.
The pattern of today’s readings is presented clearly for us and we must apply it to ourselves as well. We are new creations in Christ through our baptism. The sins we have confessed are gone, forgiven, and removed from our souls. We cannot keep looking backward and defining ourselves by who we were in our sinfulness; rather we are called to look forward and define ourselves in Christ. We are children of God and heirs of Heaven. As members of Christ, embrace the Cross and look forward with hope and confidence to your participation in His resurrection!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.