By Bernadette Phillips
This Sunday’s gospel follows that of the story of the Prodigal Son which we read last week. It would seem that the Church wants to underscore the virtues of compassion and forgiveness as keys to unlocking the graces of the Lenten season.
If we found the Father’s love and forgiveness for his wayward son unbelievable and/or unreasonable, today we have Jesus, the revelation of the Father, doing the same thing! It is as if Jesus is saying to us: “Is true! That is how God is!”
I have never had the experience of being humiliated as this poor woman was, but I have had the privilege of sharing in another’s abasement as she recounted the physical and verbal abuse she endured at the hands of a close relative. The pain and shame were buried deep, and even now, years after the relative’s death, she admits that she is at times still afraid of this person!
We can hardly imagine what terror the woman in the gospel experienced as she awaited judgement. She had no reason to hope for mercy, after all, she was “caught in the very act”. Guilty as charged! She knew a very painful death awaited her.
Interestingly, the Law, as stated in Deuteronomy 22:22–24, prescribed the death penalty for both parties involved, but in this account, no mention is made of the other adulterer. Did he escape capture? Was he a friend of the scribes and Pharisees? Did they circumvent the law to suit their real motive, which was to trap Jesus?
We will never know. But what we do know is that Jesus gives them time to think things over. He writes on the ground and does not respond immediately. But “they persisted with their question.”
When Jesus finally responded, they were slowly convicted of their own sin and went away “one by one, beginning with the eldest.” Then came these healing words of Jesus, like balm to the sinner’s weary soul: “Neither do I condemn you . . . go away and don’t sin anymore.”
Can we imagine the woman’s state of mind now? She must have sobbed uncontrollably with relief!
The prophet Isaiah prepares us for this intensely human drama when he writes in the First Reading: “No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before. See, I am doing a new deed . . . can you not see it?”
Aren’t these words that we all desperately want to hear? And yet, so often we find it hard to show compassion and forgiveness to those who have wronged us. Luke 6:36–38 exhorts us to “be compassionate as our Father is compassionate” and it offers a simple formula for doing just that: ‘Two Dos and Two Don’ts’, as parishioners of St Joseph’s learnt in our recent parish retreat, (thank you, Fr Lindsay!): Don’t judge. Don’t condemn. Forgive. Give.
It has been said that “every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future” (Oscar Wilde), so when it comes to sin, we are all in the same boat. God, the superabundant giver of gifts, is pouring out His love, mercy, and compassion on us all the time.
Indeed, we could say that God’s goodness is not just following us (Psalm 23) but “running after us” as Cece Winans so powerfully sings!
The only fitting response is a profound gratitude, and a determination to be generous dispensers of mercy and compassion ourselves, especially during this holy season.
Loving God, forgive us for the times we have withheld forgiveness from one another, especially from members of our family. Give us the courage to think things over, to embrace compassion and to be sacraments of Your love in the world. Amen.
The gospel reflections for April are by Bernadette Phillips of the St Joseph parish in Scarborough, Tobago.