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Fifth Sunday of Lent Cycle C (2)
Sometime ago a lady wrote to the famous advice columnist Ann Landers and asked this question, “Do all men cheat on their wives? I have been suspicious of my husband for some time. I even hired a private detective to trail him, but he couldn’t come up with a thing. I went to a lawyer. He told me to grow up and accept the fact that all husbands fool around. Do they?” Ann Landers very wisely replied, “No. There are plenty of married men who never cheat, and your husband could be one of them. The only thing you can be fairly sure of is that your lawyer cheats on his wife.”
Cheating on one’s wife or husband is called adultery in the Bible. It is prohibited by the Seventh Commandment. Jesus pointed to lust as the real source of adultery. Lust is that process by which an innocent attraction is nursed and cultivated and incubated until it leads step by step into adultery. Jesus said that the lustful thought is as sinful as the actual deed.
Today, I want to talk about the cure and prevention of adultery.
FIRST, LET’S LOOK AT THE CURE FOR ADULTERY.
Jesus demonstrated the cure one day when a woman was brought to him by a group of proud, judgmental Pharisees. She had been caught in the very act of adultery. Perhaps she was dragged half naked to Jesus. Quickly a crowd gathered to leer and lust and condemn and execute her. This was a blood-thirsty, mean bunch of people.
The Pharisees put Jesus on the spot by asking him what should be done to her. The law of Moses was clear. She should be stoned to death. Yet such punishment was contrary to Roman law. Would Jesus offend Old Testament law or the Roman Empire?
Jesus knelt and wrote in the sand. I wonder what he wrote. Someone has suggested that Jesus wrote, “Where is the man?” After all, it takes two to tango. What made her more guilty than him?
Then Jesus stood and declared, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone at her.” Jesus was saying, “You may stone her, but only if you have never done or wanted to do the same thing she did.”
The Bible tells us that those Pharisees slipped away. Really, they slunk away. Even they could stomach only so much hypocrisy.
When all had departed Jesus said to the woman, “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The original Greek means that Jesus deferred judgment. He did not say to her, “Forget it. It’s no big thing.” Nor did he say, you are forgiven probably because she was not sorry. What he meant was: “I am not going to pass judgment on you now. The jury is still out on you. Go out and live a different life; prove that you are a new person.”
The good news for us is even better than that woman received, for we live on the sunrise side of Calvary and Easter morning. There are four words that describe for us the cure for adultery and every other sin. The first word is confession. That means to identify the sin as God does, to call it what God calls it. We stop making excuses or rationalizing. We accept God’s diagnosis of our problem. We accept responsibility for what we have done.
The second word is Metanonia, change of heart.. That means to turn and go 180 degrees in a different direction. In regard to sin, this means that we put away from us radically the thing which God has helped us diagnose as sin. No longer will we say: I’ll just be more discreet about it or I’ll do it less often.
The third word is forgiveness. This just means to believe that when Jesus bled and died on a cross, he was paying the bill in full for all of our sinfulness. Therefore, since the bill has been paid, all we have to do is draft a check on it. We simply draw on that inexhaustible supply of forgiveness which cost Jesus Christ so dearly on Calvary. Jesus gave his Church the power to forgive sins, so that you will have confidence that you are forgiven when you receive absolution.
The fourth and final word is actually two words: new life. Having accepted the forgiveness offered by Jesus through the priest, we forge a new life in the power of the Holy Spirit, commonly called in the Church firm purpose of amendment.. That Spirit helps us launch forth in a new lifestyle, guided by God’s purposes for us.
In his book, “A Forgiving God in an Unforgiving World,” Ron Lee Davis tells the true story of a priest in the Philippines, a much- loved man of God who carried the burden of a secret sin he had committed many years before. He had repented but still had no peace about it. In his parish was a woman who deeply loved God and who claimed to have visions in which she spoke with Christ. The priest, however, was skeptical about that. To test her he said, “The next time you speak with Christ, ask him what sin I committed while I was in seminary.” The woman agreed. A few days later the priest asked, “Well, did Christ visit you in your dreams?” “Yes, he did,” she replied. “And did you ask him what sin I committed back in seminary?” “Yes.” “And what did he say?” She smiled and answered, “Christ said, ‘I don’t remember. ‘”
When God forgives, he forgets. And he helps us to forgive ourselves.
You don’t have to suffer all your life for a mistake you made. If you hate your sin and ask forgiveness and receive absolution, there is always a second chance with God. The cure for adulterers is confession to God, forgiveness through Christ, and a new life in the power of the Holy Spirit.
NOW, LET’S TURN TO THE MATTER OF THE PREVENTION OF ADULTERY.
I want to make four recommendations which could reduce the frequency and the trauma of adultery.
First, talk with your children honestly about sex. Most parents don’t. I am very grateful for sex education in the schools. However, those courses are designed to teach prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Only in rare instances is there any instruction as to abstinence. These courses are slim on value content. For that, we must rely on the home and the church.
Make the case at home for abstinence before marriage and fidelity during it. For goodness sakes, be positive. Tell them that God’s rules are designed, not to cheat us out of something good, but to help people experience the very best sex on earth. Sex at its best is an experience shared by two people in a life-long marriage commitment.
Teenagers, don’t let something second-rate and dangerous rob you of the best.
Shannon, a 17-year-old high school student, announced last December that she is HIV positive. Now she is on a crusade. Every morning she hands out condoms in front of her school and declares this message: “If you’re going to have sex, have safe sex because the person you’re with ain’t worth dying for.”
Shannon’s message needs to be reversed. Never have sex with someone who isn’t worth dying for. If you want the best sex on earth, save it for that person to whom you say, “For better or worse, for richer, for poorer, until death us do part.” You’ll thank God a thousand times you did.
Secondly, beware of unmet needs in your marriage. Yes, those needs could be sexual. Sadly, some husbands and wives put almost everything else ahead of meeting their partner’s needs, especially taking care of children. I always remind couples that in end your children leave and its just the two of you. If you didn’t keep the love burning, allyou are left with is the cold embers of a loveless marriage.. We Christians are supposed to have sex at its best. After all, we serve a Lord who wrote the book on love. But many Christian couples neglect the romantic side of their marriages. They allow almost everything to take priority over their love-making: TV programs, ball games, work from the office, and even talking on the telephone with friends. And some Christian couples allow their sex lives to drift into dull routine, about as exciting as raking leaves. We owe it to God, to our spouses, and to ourselves to be great lovers.
But the unmet need in a marriage might not be sexual. It could be an ego need. King Solomon was quite perceptive in Proverbs 7 when he described how a wayward, licentious wife lures a young man into adultery. It was not her charms that were so alluring. Solomon wrote, “He couldn’t resist her flattery.” Perhaps the worst failing among married people is that they don’t take care of each other’s ego needs.
There is much talk about the mid-life crisis and escapades of middle-aged men. Often such men wonder if they are still attractive. Perhaps the wife has forgotten how to say, “Hey, your grey hair makes you look distinguished.” Some woman outside the home will say that.
A wife watches a movie in which a man says the most romantic things to a woman. Then the wife wonders how long it has been since her husband told her that she is pretty. Or brought her a flower. When did he stop kissing her when he leaves and returns to the home?
Every wife and husband needs to be looked at with eyes that say, “You are very special,” and wants to be treated accordingly. When that is missing in a relationship, adultery becomes a dangerous temptation.
A third suggestion for the prevention of adultery is this: Avoid opportunities for lust. Jesus said, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” Of course, he was speaking figuratively rather than literally. One could lust even if one were blind. Jesus was saying, “Don’t fool around with lust. Remove yourself from situations which promote it.” One of my gripes with pornography and “R”-rated movies is that they program the mind for lust. Some men claim they read Playboy because of the thoughtful articles, but, watch out, they will lie about other things too.
The mind is a magnificent computer, but it is no better than the material we feed it. Temptations will come our way regardless, but there is no sense in soliciting more.
Fourth and finally, the best way to avoid adultery is to claim Jesus Christ is to remember when you got married there were three. Each of you and God. No matter how different a husband and wife may be, if they both keep God alive in their marriage, they can forge a beautiful unity. When God is present, we listen to each other better, with more sensitivity. When God is preset, we work on our own faults before attacking those of our partner. When God is present, we say “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” because we have already had that interchange with Christ. When God is present, he gives us different eyes with which to see our partner. God actually distorts our vision a bit, but it’s a beautiful and blessed distortion. God gives us an enhanced view of our spouse. Those things about him and her that are noble, positive and attractive are magnified. And those things that are unattractive are reduced in size. How does God do that? I don’t know. But that doesn’t matter. I’m only in sales, not in management, so I don’t have to know.
Some time back Ann Landers received a beautiful letter from a wife in Ohio. She wrote, “My husband is a laborer. He leaves home at 7:00 AM and puts in long, hard days at work. If he can get overtime he grabs it. When he comes home at night, he paints the house, fixes whatever is broken, and helps with the kids. At the end of the week he hands me his paycheck and apologizes because it isn’t more. He never complains when I give him ground meat in eleven different shapes. At night when he puts his arms around me and pulls me close, I feel that whatever I’ve done for him was not enough. Love and marriage are a cycle. The more you do for a man, the more he loves you. The more he loves you, the more he tries to do for you. And so it goes, round and round. It’s so simple. What don’t more people figure it out?”
One thing is sure…that lady in Ohio won’t have adultery problems; nor will anyone with a marriage of that quality. Their life style follows the command of St. Paul: “Honor Christ by being servants of each other.” (Ephesians 5:21)
Fifth Sunday of Lent Cycle C (1)
There are three very important letters that for many years have meant, “I need help.” Whenever ships were sinking, they would always send out these three letters. Can anybody tell me what they are? That’s right, S-O-S.
Does anybody know what those three letters stand for? They could stand for “save our ship.” Or even “save our souls.” I could preach a sermon on that, couldn’t I?
Back before we had telephones or radios, there was Morse code. Messages were sent in code using a tapping sound. When people heard three dots, they knew it stood for “S”. When they heard three dashes–a little bit longer than dots–it meant “O”. The fastest message that you could send with Morse code was three dots and three dashes. So S-O-S, three dots, three dashes and three dots, was chosen to say, HELP.
Sometimes people need help, but they don’t send out a S-O-S signal. Maybe they are very lonely and need a friend. Maybe they are having problems at home. We never know when somebody might be saying silently, I need help. So, the best thing to do is to try to be a friend to everyone. That way if someone needs a friend, but doesn’t say so, you will be still be there.
That is what the cross is all about. God heard our S-O-S. He took it to mean Send Our Savior. He knew we needed help. So he sent Jesus to be our Savior. Now we are to be friends to others who need help as well. We don’t need to wait for someone to hold up three cards like these. We can just try to be friends before they need us–just as God did for us.
Sex – Now that I have your attention. Because in advertising sex sells.
The fact that we are male or female sets in motion a whole realm of physical, social and spiritual interactions which make us who we are. So a 5-year-old was sitting at the kitchen table not only counting the number of boys and girls present, but occasionally going into explicit detail about the differences. Such discussions have intensified since it was an event celebrating the new addition to the family a girl with ribbons and bows and dolls and clothes. The mystery of our maleness and femaleness will challenge and fascinate us for a lifetime, provided we can get beyond the battle of the sexes and live in the wonder of God’s creation.
Our bodies are sacred. No where is that illustrated better than in the incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas time. “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The incarnation of Jesus Christ gave sacredness to our physical selves. We are not spiritual beings trapped in a physical body waiting to be delivered to a higher realm. We are human beings, an intertwining of body and soul that still requires a body to function completely in heaven. We do not give up our bodies. The ones we have are transformed, glorified.Sexuality is about what we do as well as who we are. It has everything to do with our being, with who we are, with how we are made, but it also has everything to do with what we do, how we act, what choices we make, how we live out our lives; personally, in relationships, and even in the community.
Our spirituality and our sexuality are vitally connected. There is a mystery here; something more than meets the eye. Scott Peck says the sexual and spiritual parts of our personalities lie so close together that it is hardly possible to arouse one without the other.
Nobody can go to bed with someone and leave his soul parked outside.
It is mothers and fathers who teach little boys how to treat girls. It is mothers and fathers who teach little girls how to treat boys. Failure to do so has led to the MeToo movement. Hopefully this movement will fade away because parents are raising their children with respect for their own sexuality and that of others. Otherwise, we may end up with stories like today’s gospel.
the law of Moses saying that she should be stoned, the leaders of the Jewish people using her as an opportunity to attack Jesus,
It is true that the woman was a pawn in the battle between the forces of evil and the Force of Good. But she still was a sinner. The passage never hints that she was innocent. Jesus himself tells her to avoid this sin. We don’t know if she was caught in a onetime situation, a long term affair, or if she was practicing the oldest profession. But we do know that there was no doubt that she had sinned. Her action or actions could not be justified whether she sinned once or many times. We often fall into the trap of only recognizing our own sinfulness if there is a large number of sin. No, sin is sin, and whether we sin once or many times, we are still sinners.
She must have been terrified, dragged by these men to be stoned. She had no defense. She had no one to stand up for her. No one, except Jesus. She had all she needed. Jesus did not see a sinner. He never does. He saw a person who needed mercy. When we approach the Lord to receive the sacrament of forgiveness, He doesn’t see sinners; he sees people who need Divine Mercy. We all might feel ashamed to face up to our sin. That’s normal. We should feel terrified to have the forces of evil deal with our sins rather than humble ourselves and seek the Divine Mercy of the Lord.
The Law of Moses said that she should be stoned. This was a gruesome way to die. The community participated in the execution. Perhaps the ancient Law wanted to demonstrate the weight of the sin by having the people do the killing. Having done that, there would be less chance that they would commit that sin.
There was more to the stoning than that, though. The men doing the stoning would release their venom on the accused. The woman would feel hatred with every rock, finally begging to be released from a world that had no place for her. These men thought that they were fulfilling the law by hating. This was the law that Jesus came to change. How could this be the way of the Lord? Jesus came to bring love and mercy to the world. There were many things about the old way that would have no place in the New Kingdom. Hatred, vengeance, an eye for an eye, all these needed to be removed from the Christian’s way of life.
Sadly, we have yet to learn that hatred can have no place in our lives. Demagogues of the last century, and now of the present century, appeal to base hatred in order to be elected to office. Hitler was not the only German who hated the Jews. He used the hatred that many of his countrymen had for Jews to get himself elected chancellor. It is terrifying to think that this same tactic has a role in our present political process, only instead of Jews, hatred is being focused on Hispanics and Moslems.
The leaders of the Jewish people saw in the woman an opportunity to attack Jesus. They didn’t care whether the woman lived or died; she was just a pawn in their battle against the New Kingdom of God that Jesus was proclaiming. Their actions were despicable. Some say it is the way of the world to use others to forward one’s own agenda, career, position in society, etc. If that is the case, then the way of the world is despicable. Our way needs to be the Way of the Lord. And yes, the Way of the Lord often leads to the Way of the Cross. But the Cross gives us eternal life.
Those about to throw the stones are those who have no problem judging other people. All of us have to fight the inclination to be judgmental. Someone may be a sinner, but it is up to God, the Just Judge, to make that determination, not up to us. So often, we attempt to hide our own sins behind the sins of others. We transfer our hatred for ourselves into hatred for others. Instead of throwing the first stone, we need to remove sin from our own lives.
The central figure in today’s Gospel is not the woman, or the leaders of the Jews, or those about to throw stones, but is Jesus. He sees the person who is being condemned, not just her sin or sins. He is not concerned about the ancient law he came to transform. He is not concerned about the venom of the leaders of the Jews. Nor is he afraid of the angry crowd with stones in hand. All he is concerned about is this woman who needs mercy.
The Lord is not concerned about what sins we have committed. He is not concerned with which commandments we have broken. He is only concerned about what these sins are doing to us. He sees us as he saw that woman, cowering before him, expecting his judgment, needing his mercy.
His mercy is there for us. The only thing he asks us to do is to extend this mercy to others. We need to stop judging others, stop pre-judging whole groups of people, stop using others for our own gain. We need to start defending the poor and stranger among us. We need to pick up those who others have knocked down. We need to work hard for the establishment of the Kingdom of God. We need to be fountains of mercy. We will only fulfill the purpose for our existence if others are able to say, “In you I experience Jesus Christ.”