Fifth Sunday of Lent
Conversion of the Heart
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Thus says the LORD, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters, who leads out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army, till they lie prostrate together, never to rise, snuffed out and quenched like a wick. Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers. Wild beasts honor me, jackals and ostriches, for I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, the people whom I formed for myself, that they might announce my praise.
Brothers and sisters: I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
“The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoice”, the Psalmist boldly proclaims (Ps 126:3). Indeed, we have been richly blessed with God’s love and mercy. During the past four Sundays of Lent, we have been reminded of the unfathomable depth and width of God’s love and mercy, and are called to repent and believe in the Gospel. God has promised us a new beginning, “I am about to do a new thing; […] do you not perceive it” (Is 43:19)? From the water that destroys the entire army of Pharaoh in the OT to the living water that cleanses, quenches thirst, and gives life in the NT, God continues to reveal His salvific plan to humanity (Ref. Is 43:16-21, Jn 4:13-14). In the first reading, Isaiah reaffirms the faithfulness of God: God has “extinguished” the Pharaoh’s army and will “make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Is 43:17, 19). Similarly, God has the power to transform the arid landscape of our hearts into lush and fertile grounds.
In this week’s Gospel, Jesus is, once again, tested by the scribes and Pharisees. They brandish the Law of Moses, like a lethal weapon, that “commanded [them] to stone” the woman who has been caught in adultery (Jn 8:5). Jesus gently avoids such trap by challenging their hypocrisy, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). When everyone has left without throwing a single stone, Jesus does not condemn the woman but urges her “from now on do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). Jesus has not only shown mercy to the sinner but more importantly, he has demonstrated that our sins cannot be blotted out by the letter of the law but only by God’s mercy. Further, true conversion of the heart is rooted in faith. St. Paul explains that we may “gain Christ” not through “righteousness of [our] own that comes from the law but one that comes from faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith” (Ph 3:9). Indeed, Jesus comes not to negate or abolish the Old Law – the Law of Moses: The Ten Commandments – but to fulfill it (ref. CCC 1962). “The Law of the Gospel “fulfills,” refines, surpasses, and leads the Old Law to its perfection” (CCC 1967). This new law, “The Law of the Gospel […] does not add new external precepts, but proceeds to reform the heart, the root of human acts, […] where faith, hope, and charity are formed and with them the other virtues” (CCC 1968).
Ultimately, Jesus has done way more for this woman by showing her that true freedom from sin is rooted in the conversion of the heart. Henri Nouwen explains, “That is what conversion is all about. It is a complete turnaround that allows us to discover that we are not the prisoners we think we are. […] We worry about many things and even wound ourselves while worrying. God says: ‘Turn around, set your heart on my kingdom. I give you all the freedom you desire’” (Nouwen 54). When Jesus tells the woman not to sin again, He has not only lifted the burden of sin from her but also shown her a way towards genuine freedom and a new beginning. This story, like so many other stories in the Bible, calls us to turn to God without reservation.
As we journey along the last stretch of Lent towards the climax of God’s salvific plan, Christ’s death and resurrection, let us pray for courage to stay faithful and hopeful; keep “straining forward to what lies ahead” and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Ph 3:14).
Nouwen, Henri. Here and Now: Living in the Spirit. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1994.
Susanna has a deep conviction that faith needs to be manifested in daily life, particularly, in one’s encounters with others as well as amidst dilemmas, choices, and challenges. She strives to be a living sign of God’s love and hope as a daughter, sister, friend, aunt, wife, teacher, chaplain, life-long learner, and occasional writer for FLL. She has been a high school teacher in Toronto for almost 20 years, with experiences in English and literacy, youth leadership initiatives, the Chaplaincy Team, to mention a few. She has a B. Comm, B.A. in English, and a B. Education from University of Toronto, an M.A. in Integrated Studies from Athabasca University, and a Graduate Certificate of Theological Studies from Regis College, U of T. She is humbled by the opportunity to be part of the FLL Writing Team.