15 March 2016
Fifth Sunday of Lent–Year C and Scrutinies
Most of the times when we have the yearly readings and the scrutiny readings (which 2 out of three years means they are different), I prepare two different homilies. Usually each set of readings has its own focus and takes me down two different roads as I think about what the Lord wants me to say. But this week the two Gospel passages–the woman caught in adultery and the raising of Lazarus from the dead–tied in together and seem to both emphasize the same point.
If I think about the raising of Lazarus (you can go home and read John 11 if you want a refresher), it is an amazing passage in itself. Probably all of us have experienced the death of a loved one, and if it was a close family member or friend, we know the pain and sorrow that Martha and Mary were feeling. We understand and maybe even have said with Martha, “‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” We can then also imagine how moving it would have been to actually have seen Lazarus risen from the dead. Imagine your loved one, who had been dead for four days, being returned to life. Maybe it would be a little creepy, but the joy would have been inexpressible.
And then I think about the woman caught in adultery from John 8. That woman was raised from the dead by Jesus, but in a pre-emptive way. His challenge to the scribes and Pharisees keeps them and the mob that had formed from stoning her to death. Jesus’ words have been repeated (whether appropriately applied or not) throughout the ages: “‘Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’” Jesus saves her life, and encourages her to go and sin no more.
But both Lazarus and the woman caught in adultery would later die. Lazarus’ earthly life came to an end…again, at some point. By pious legend Lazarus either became the first bishop of a city in Cyprus, or Provence in France. We have no idea what happened to the woman caught in adultery. But they both died. We usually think of the raising of Lazarus as Jesus’ biggest miracle. And certainly it was a biggie, and proved His divinity. Jesus showed that He, as God, had power over life and death. But we might say that, in one sense, his miracle with the woman caught in adultery was bigger. When Jesus raised Lazarus, Jesus gave Him back earthly life. When Jesus forgave the sins of the woman, He offered her eternal life.
Forgiving sins raises people from death. In my ministry as a confessor, I have been privileged, though I am a sinner and in need of God’s mercy, to be the instrument of God’s mercy to people, some of whom have been away from God’s grace for longer than I’ve been alive. To hear the confession of people who have been alienated from God by their choices, and to reconcile them to God and bring them back into His family, is a humbling and truly awesome gift, one of the greatest that a priest receives. To act in Jesus’ Name, with His power, when someone tells me, often with tears in their eyes, that they have been away from the Church for 10, 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years; that they have killed the infant in their womb; that they have committed adultery, allows me to see the great power of Christ which raises their dead soul to life, and recreates them.
I can often see the guilt and hurt, or hear it in their words. These are people who are as good as dead, and yet are looking for new life. The world has not shown them kindness. They have been drug out into the streets, ready to be killed by the stones of judgment of others. Sometimes they even expect judgment or condemnation in the Sacrament of Penance. But what they hear are the words of Jesus: “‘Has no one condemned you? […]Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.’” Once inside that confessional, the only one who could truly condemn that person because He truly knows what the person has done and why and to what extent he or she is truly culpable, does not condemn, but forgives.
Forgiveness is a way that Jesus gives new life. Not just an extension of earthly life. But a new life that can last forever in heaven. It is given in Christ’s Name with His authority in the Sacrament of Penance. But each one of us has the power to raise someone from death by forgiving them. If we truly forgive someone who has wronged us, especially if they have wronged us in a powerful way, we give that person new life, and raise their souls from death. It is not easy. It doesn’t mean we forget the pain and hurt that person caused us. But it means we no longer hold it against him or her, and grant them the opportunity of a new life without the chains of sin dragging that person down to death. Today, and every day, you have the opportunity to raise someone from the death of sin to the new life of forgiveness. Can you say with Jesus, “‘Has no one condemned you? […] Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.’”