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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.”