In the first Reading of today, (Is 43:16-21), the Lord, through the mouth of prophet Isaiah, addressed the Israelites during their Babylonian captivity. After about 70 years in exile, the Israelites were wondering if the Lord has abandoned them for ever. The Lord spoke words of encouragement to them by letting them know that he was doing something new in their lives which would be greater than he had done in the past. The Lord said, “No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before. See, I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light; can you not see it?” The greatest story the Jewish people reminisced about was their freedom from slavery in Egypt. The Lord was saying that their greatest story would now be their reconciliation with God; the pardoning of their sins.
This becomes more evident in the Gospel of today, (Jn 8:1-11), where a woman caught committing adultery was brought to Jesus by the Scribes and the Pharisees. According to the Book of Deuteronomy, a man and a woman who committed adultery must be put to death. (Deut 22:22).
The Scribes and the Pharisees enquired of Jesus if he supported carrying out the injunction prescribed in the Law on the accused. It was a difficult question for Jesus because he must not be seen as condoning sin. However, the people brought only one of the culprits – the woman, which in itself is unfair. The people of today might frown at killing a spouse because he or she committed adultery. Yes, the punishment is extreme, however, we must not forget that fidelity to one’s spouse in marriage is of supreme importance!
Jesus, while not condoning the sin the woman had committed, however, in a gentle but persuasive way pointed out to the woman’s accusers that each of them in one way or another do commit sin and were in need of God’s mercy. Some sins are graver than others, nonetheless, everyone needs God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Stoning was the mode of carrying out capital punishment in Israel in Jesus’ time, which explains Jesus’ command to the woman’s accusers that the person without sin be the first to cast the stone on the accused. The woman’s accusers suddenly realised that they were all sinners in one way or another and needed God’s mercy and forgiveness. Hence none of them raised their hands on the woman and Jesus said to the woman; “neither do I condemn you but go and sin no more.” Wow! Isn’t that a great healing to experience the mercy and forgiveness of one’s spouse, friend, parents or business associates after we have offended them, especially in very serious ways.
The mercy and forgiveness of God abounds in Jesus and “nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus our, (sic) Lord.” (Phil 3:8). Let us not gloss over our past mistakes if they were serious, nor should we only dwell on the wrong choices we have made. Make restitution for the harm and pain you may have inflicted on people and with the grace that comes from true repentance; and the desire to not re-offend, move your life forward.
Paul was a persecutor of the Christians. While on his way to Damascus to arrest and torture the Christians, he had an encounter with Christ through a vision. He heard a voice call out to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He enquired about whose voice it was and was informed that it was the voice of Jesus and he, (Saul), was persecuting him, (Jesus), as he persecuted the Christians.
Paul underwent a transformation from that moment and became a protagonist of the Gospel of Christ after receiving Baptism. He worked very hard to make as many people as possible come to know about Jesus Christ and the salvation which he brought to humankind. He founded many churches. His hard work for the faith was a way for him to make restitution for the harm he caused to the nascent church. He did not allow his past mistakes of persecuting the Church to be all that defined him. No! His doggedness in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ has made him to be remembered as an apostle of Christ and a saint! Thus, we should not allow our epitaph to be on our mistakes but on how we were able to triumph despite our mistakes, by the grace of God.
Next Sunday is Palm Sunday which marks the beginning of the most Holy Week in the Christian calendar. Today, I am sending you forth to your family members and neighbours to invite them to re-connect with their faith by joining our Parish in the celebration of the Paschal Mystery – the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I know that there is a lot of negative news about the Church these days, but with Christ, we will remain sailing!
Fr. Chinua Okeke CSSp