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Fifth Sunday of Lent

When a Pure Heart Meets Misery, A New Reality is Present – MERCY

Don’t you just love it when someone gets what is coming to them? There are many scandalous financial situations that happened over past decades and I could not help feeling glee when the guilty ones were caught and tried and put in jail for their crimes. Most of all, I felt a great sadness by those victims who were scammed out of their money.
This human trait which is an attitude of justice deserves another look because of the Gospel story today. Father Ermes Ronchi was the preacher to Pope Francis and his collaborators on retreat this week and he spoke about the story of the woman caught in adultery. Fr. Ronchi made a statement that made me think of the sad state of affairs of US politics where finding fault with an opponent is the national sport.
Fr. Ronchi said: “Whoever loves to accuse, getting drunk on the shortcomings of other people, believes in saving truth while throwing stones at those who make mistakes. From that attitude, wars are born.” Pray about that.
In this passage of the Gospel of John, the scribes and the Pharisees do not only desire to accuse the woman, but they are really after Jesus Himself. They wanted to win at any cost. They did not like the way that He had influence over other people and the way He was challenging them, the religious leaders, in the practice of their Jewish faith.
So they set a trap. If Jesus allows this woman caught in the very act of adultery and was obviously guilty to go free, he will be discredited as being a teacher who does not uphold the law.
If Jesus allows her to be condemned, then he would be discredited as the teacher who has advocated for the forgiveness of sins and showing mercy to sinners.
Jesus, how do you get out of this catch 22? Notice that he does not engage the angry violent emotion. This is a wise action for anyone in a heated situation. He is sitting in the temple area writing on the ground with His finger. He defuses the situation to a degree. He focuses on the dignity of the person, giving freedom to each individual to make a moral decision. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” He does not go against the law since he encourages them…Go ahead since the Law of Moses prescribes the stoning of a person guilty of adultery. He appeals to a stronger law that is prescribed upon the heart of each person of integrity. It is the law of the heart which is the Law of mercy.
At the end of the encounter, only two people are left – the woman in her misery and the man who is sinless and is the only one according to his question who has the right to stone her. He has a pure heart that goes out to her with what a heart is supposed to contain and share: LOVE. Let’s consider these two remaining people: the nameless woman embodies misery and she still might be fearing what Jesus alone will do to her after they are left alone. And the man Jesus who embodies love that comes from a pure heart. In Latin, “misery” is MISERIA and in Latin, “heart” is COR. When a pure heart comes together with misery, there exists a new and glorious reality which is MISERICORDIA in Latin or MERCY in English.
God does not wish that a sinner should die but should turn back to him and live.
The adulterous woman represents everyone and is she crushed by the Powers of death that express oppression of men against women. Pharisees of every time put sin at the center of their relationship with God. This is the tragedy of religious fundamentalism. What is always needed is wisdom that comes from the heart.
The Lord does not support hypocrites, those who go around in masks, those who have duplicitous hearts, and He does not support accusers and judges.
The genius of Christianity is the embrace of God and man. They are no longer opposed to one another. Matter and spirit embrace. The sickness that Jesus fears and fights against even more is the heart of stone, that of hypocrites. To violate a body, whether guilty or innocent, with stones or with power, is the denial of God who is living in each person. That is why we are opposed to the death penalty.
The scribes and Pharisees who judge the adulterous woman and condemn her to death are hypocrites because they have thrown a Boomerang, according to Fr. Ronchi. You know what a boomerang is? From Australia, it is a curved stick that when thrown comes back at the one who threw it. Not one of the scribes and Pharisees can throw a stone, because in doing so, they would end up flinging it against themselves.
Where there is Mercy-wrote Saint Ambrose-there is God; wherever there is rigidity and severity, perhaps there are ministers of God but God is not there. Jesus gets up before the adulterous woman, as if He were getting up in front of an important person who was waiting. He gets up to put himself closer to her and he speaks to her. No one had spoken to her before. “Her story, her intimate torment was of no interest to them.” Jesus grasps the intimacy of her soul. She is fragile and fragility is the teacher of humanity. Jesus is not interested in remorse but in sincerity of heart. His forgiveness is without conditions. Jesus puts himself in place of all those who are condemned, of all who are sinners. He breaks apart the evil chain linked to the idea of a God that condemns and is vindictive, justifying violence.
Jesus brings forth a radical revolution upsetting the traditional order with a judging and punishing God on top of everything. A naked god on the cross, who forgives, is the shocking ending of today’s story.
• Go and from now on sin no more. The words are enough to change a life. That which is behind you no longer matters. It is the future that counts. The possible good tomorrow counts more than yesterday’s evil. Forgiveness puts a person on the path of life. Forgiveness frees us from the slavery of the past. So many people live “as if they were under an interior life sentence, crushed by their sense of wrong caused by past mistakes. But Jesus opens the doors of our prisons. Jesus knows that man does not equal his sins. The Lord is not interested in the past. He is a God of the future. The words of Jesus and his gestures break apart the framework of good and bad, guilty and innocent.

Dr. A.J. Cronin was a great Christian physician in England. One night he assigned a young nurse to a little boy who had been brought to the hospital suffering from diphtheria, and given only a slight chance to live. A tube was inserted into the boy’s throat to help him breathe. It was the nurse’s job periodically to clean out the tube. As the nurse sat beside the boy’s bed, she accidentally dozed off. She awakened to find that the tube had become blocked. Instead of following instructions, she was immobilized by panic. Hysterically she called the doctor at his home. By the time he got to the boy, he was dead. Dr. Cronin was angry beyond all telling. That night Dr. Cronin went to his office and wrote his recommendation to the board demanding the immediate expulsion of the nurse. He called her in and read it, his voice trembling with anger. She stood there in pitiful silence, a tall, thin, gawky Welsh girl. She nearly fainted with shame and remorse. “Well,” asked Dr. Cronin in a harsh voice, “have you nothing to say for yourself?” There was more silence. Then she uttered this pitiful plea, “…please give me another chance.” Dr. Cronin sent her away. But he could not sleep that night. He kept hearing some words from the dark distance: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The next morning Dr. Cronin went to his desk and tore up the report. In the years that followed he watched as this slim, nervous girl became the head of a large hospital and one of the more honored nurses in England. Thank God for a second chance, and a third chance, and fourth chance! We need to hear it said to us: Go in peace. Your sins are forgiven. This happens every time we leave the sacrament of confession. Do you need to encounter God’s forgiveness?
[Go out in front of altar with a stone.]
Who is it that you are ready to throw stones at in judgment of their wrongdoing? Who is it whom you never want to see again? A politician? A spouse? A family member? A boss? Here it is. Come and take it…Let the one among you without sin be the first to throw a stone.
[Drop the stone. THUD!]

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