Sunday Sermon for April 7, 2019, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C
Readings: Is 43:16-21; Phil 3:8-14; Jn 8:1-11
In the first reading God says He is doing something new; He follows this by asking “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” The context of these statements brings us to consider the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. Initially Isaiah speaks of the crossing of the Red Sea, but then he says we are not to remember the things of the past. What follows is a discussion of the events that took place in the desert after the people crossed the Red Sea. Certainly, everything that happened to the Israelites in the desert took place in the past, so are we to forget the past or are we not?
The point of not considering the things of the past and the fact that God is doing something new delineates what happened to the Israelites in Egypt and what happened during their forty years in the desert. They are both in the past, but in Egypt the people were enslaved to the Egyptians; in the desert the people were set free by God to be formed as His chosen people. So, when God tells us not to consider the past, He speaks about the time when we were slaves.
We may object that we have never been slaves, but our Lord tells us that anyone who sins becomes a slave of sin. We all know from personal experience what it means to be enslaved by some area of sin that seems to have control over us. Lent is a great time to be reminded that breaking the bondage of sin is not always easy, but once we make the choice to break from sin there is a new found freedom even when we still struggle with the temptations to go back.
To tell us not to consider the things of old does not imply we will forget our former slavery to some area of sin. St. Paul, in the second reading says he forgets what lies behind and strains on to what lies ahead. We know that he speaks of himself as one who was arrogant, a blasphemer who persecuted the Church, and the worst of all sinners. He does not forget who he was, but he does not allow his past to define him. He knows his sins are forgiven, so he is free and presses forward to the goal of eternallife in Jesus Christ.
This is something of critical importance to us. If our sins have been forgiven, they are gone. When God looks at our souls, the sin is not there because it has been confessed and forgiven. All too often, however, we do not accept God’s forgiveness. We keep defining ourselves by our sins and, although we are free from them in the sense that we no longer commit the sin, we choose to remain bound because we define ourselves by the sin rather than by the freedom we have in Christ.
Some may object that the gravity of their sin makes it unforgivable. Since God is infinite, it would be impossible for us to commit something too big for God to handle. The only obstacle to forgiveness is in our own heart: if we do not want to be forgiven or if we are not repentant, then we are not able to accept God’s forgiveness. That does not mean God is not able to forgive. No, He is perfectly able to forgive, but we are unable to receive His forgiveness.
If you struggle in this area, consider the scene in today’s Gospel where the people bring a woman caught in the very act of adultery before the Lord. They point out that the Law commands that such a woman should be stoned to death. Rather than self-righteously following the Law in this case, they bring the woman to Jesus to so they might accuse Him of not upholding the Law. Jesus gives permission to stone the woman only if the one who throws the stone is without sin himself. When no one condemns her, Jesus, Who had no sin, did not condemn her either. Many people assume the woman is Mary Magdalene; if this is true, she became one of our Lord’s most faithful followers. Rather than defining herself by her past, she defined herself as a disciple of Jesus Christ and one whose sins He had forgiven. She was free.
If there is something you have not confessed, break free from the devil’s stronghold. If your sins have been confessed, look forward, not backward. Know your sins are forgiven and that you enjoy the freedom which allows you to announce the praises of God Who makes all things new by setting us free from our slavery to sin. In this way, forget the past and pursue the goal of God’s upward calling in Christ.
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.