We need to be a people who sustain our memory. Memory is an electrical circuit that stores past experiences including the courage to learn from our past mistakes. When we fall into sin, we need not to hide our shame and embarrassment since this can help us not to repeat the same mistake again. Fear of shame helps us build a dignified character. Shame sustains remorse and a sense of regret which helps us to stay out of trouble. There is only one antidote which is instantaneous. You simply say, ‘I’m sorry’ and God promptly replies, ‘I do not condemn you’
First reading: Isaiah 43:16-21
Prophet Isaiah moved with his people into exile in Babylonian where he understood that their journey into shame had been caused by their sinfulness and infidelity to the covenant. Despite their unworthiness, God promised them another chance of bringing them home where their chastisement would come to an end and their journey back to their homeland would be celebrated as ‘something new’ and wonderful. God promised to erase the past sufferings from their minds. During the Babylonian exile, the Israelites had been made to endure the shame of being captives; they had to face the threat of cultural and religious contradictions.
For those who remained at home in Judah their life was no better cf. Isaiah 59:1-15. Their land which lay in ruins was exposed to wave of raiders who swept though Judah in search of plunder. This is why the prophecy announced promised by Prophet Isaiah affected them as well. This beautiful oracle of hope begins with a divine self-identification and climaxes in a promise of deliverance after which Israel would praise God. Prophet Isaiah described the homeward journey from Babylon to Judah in terms of excitement. They were at long last going to live on their land. Isaiah invited them to forget what happened in the past and watch out for something new cf. Isaiah 43:18-19. The change of venue should also influence the change of heart.
Second reading: Philippians 3:8-14
Paul, writing to Philippians understood that his change of venue had come when he began to believe in Jesus. He described this experience as gaining Christ and being found in him. With Christ as the venue where he found new life, Paul was ready to forget his former life and strain forward to preach the Gospel until he attained the resurrection from the dead. Before Paul came to know and believe in Jesus, he had a life that many of his contemporaries would have envied. Born of Jewish parents in Tarsus in Cilicia, he grew up with the advantage of being well-educated in his Jewish traditions as well as in Greek language, philosophy and culture. Through his father, he was able to claim Roman citizenship. Paul had also achieved a certain status among his Jewish peers such that he was able to act with authority in preserving Judaism from the ‘taint’ of the Jesus-movement cf. Acts 9:1-2. Nevertheless, when the risen Christ made his acquaintance on the Damascus road, it was as if a page had been turned and Paul looked upon his former life as so much rubbish.
This harsh assessment of his past becomes more understandable if we keep in mind the struggle he was having with the rigidly conservative Jewish Christians. Paul referred to them as ‘dogs’ who displayed their ‘mutilation/circumcision’ hiding behind Moses cf. Philippians 3:2. Their efforts to impose Jewish law, dietary rules and circumcision on gentile converts would have suggested that the Cross of Jesus was insufficient for salvation what Paul would not tolerate. Also present in Philippi and at odds with Paul were certain Gnostic enthusiast a type of Christians who believed themselves to be already perfected and justified by virtue of their baptism. In the middle of these two extremes stood Paul who understood that salvation was an ongoing process and that the justification won for sinners through the sacrifice of Jesus was a grace that was to be appropriated daily by faith. To make his teaching clear, Paul affirmed the gradual process of learning to know Christ cf. Philippians 3:11-14. Like the athlete who has already begun the marathon, the baptized believer has been “grasped and taken possession of by Christ,” Philippians 3: 12 thus initiated into the process of lifelong conversion. Paul is advising us today to throw away unnecessary baggage so as to travel quickly and lightly towards heaven.
Gospel: John 8:1-11
The unnamed woman in today’s John’s Gospel was granted a similar experience. Found with a man who was not her husband, she had been taken and subjected to judgment by some Scribes and Pharisees even though her partner in sin remains anonymous. As if to kill two birds with one stone, the woman’s accusers also brought her before Jesus. The law permitted her execution; yet Jesus chose to pay minimal attention and succeeded in dispersing those who wanted retribution according to the legal system of their day. Instead Jesus invited the woman into a new place of loving forgiveness and rehabilitation. Without condemning or berating her, Jesus challenged her to leave sin behind and live a new life. The powerful convictions and fierce emotions that had prompted the scribes and Pharisees to bring the adulterous woman to Jesus were silenced when Jesus challenged them to remember their own sinfulness.
For centuries, people have speculated on the precise subject of Jesus’ writing was all about in vain. Saint Jerome proposed that Jesus was writing on the ground, in full view of all the sins of the woman’s accusers cf. John 8:3. Others have suggested that Jesus was taking a page out of Roman legal practice, in which the judge would first write down the sentence and then read it to the accused. In the Book of Daniel 5:24, the mysterious writing that appeared inexplicably on a wall interpreted the situation at hand. Did Jesus’ writing do the same thing? Or did Jesus reference who claimed, “Those who turn away from you shall be written on the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord” Jeremiah 17:13.
While there is no way of knowing for certain what Jesus wrote, there is no doubt that he succeeded in calling everyone present to a change of heart. For the woman’s accusers, that change would lead them away from her and their thirst for vengeance to an inward consideration of their own culpabilities. When Jesus was left alone with the ashamed and rather frustrated sinful woman, he pardoned her and sent her off to find a new way on how to live and love as God desires. This same grace is given to all sinners who humbly acknowledge their sins before God and before the community. Mind you, we need not to ignore the fact that her partner in sin remains anonymous and at large. This figure represents majority of us who are equally guilty but are just hiding ourselves from the truth. Time for us in now to “be converted and live” Ezekiel 33:11.
Most of us have gone through a history that we would be uncomfortable to share openly, yet today we are being promised another lease of life. God wants to forgive and forget our past; we need to collaborate. St. Paul reminds us of the power of Christ who alone is saving us. Let us acknowledge His presence by welcoming him into our lives now. Even when our sins are huge and alarming; Jesus is assuring us that we are not beyond redemption. What is expected of us is to heed His call and stop sinning again. May what Jesus recommends be done. Lent is the season for opening our hearts and extending our hands to others. By creating a venue of healing and forgiveness for others, we allow them to grow and we hope and pray that those we love and those we do not love as we should, will create a similar venue for us. Called out of sin into a place of reconciliation, we should be able to make a new start instead of remaining in our guilt, sinking into despair and hopelessness. Without this burden, forgiven sinners are graced with new hope that leads to growth and wholeness.