Today’s readings culminate with the gospel account of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. The earlier readings do not seem to be closely connected to it, but they present themes which are found in the gospel as well. The readings also continue ideas presented in previous week: return to God and mercy.
The first reading — Isaiah 43:16-21 — is one of Isaiah’s prophecies of the return of the exiles from the Babylonian captivity. He recalls the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea at the time of the Exodus, with the death of the pursuing Egyptians. But what God is about to do will be even more spectacular, preparing a way for the people to return to their homeland.
The responsorial psalm — Ps 126:1-6 — takes us to the time after the exile. We thank God for his saving action. The saving action for which we are grateful above all is being saved from sin through the action of Jesus which we celebrate in Holy Week and Easter (the Sacred Triduum).
In the second reading — Phlippians 3:8-14 — St. Paul reminds us of his own case. What matters is knowing Jesus as his savior. It is not observance of the law which saves him, but faith in Jesus, risen from the dead. Apart from that, everything is “rubbish,” and he is content to lose it all. We might ask us whether we are of the same mind? Could we live without all the entertaining things which surround us. In a society which tells us that we must have an active sex life, can we live chastely as single (and celibate) or married (and faithful) individuals? In a society which tells us we must have the latest technology, can we be content with whatever serviceable devices we already have. Do we “need” the finest food, the latest fashions and popular designer labels?
Paul’s conclusion reminds us of Isaiah’s call to look to the future rather than the past. We have a goal which we must always have in mind: life on high with God. That is what makes it possible to consider everything else rubbish.
The gospel — John 8:1-11 — tells us of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery. Jesus is given a seemingly insoluble dilemma of either abrogating God’s law about adulterers or letting a woman be stoned for her sin. But Jesus is the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. He does not abolish the law. He elevates it. Killing is wrong, but so is anger. Adultery is wrong, but so is lust.. We are not to resist those who harm us, but to forgive. We must pay attention to the beam in our own eye rather than the speck in our brother’s — that is, not judge others but acknowledge our own faults. In that light, only the faultless are in a position to punish others for their faults.
One lesson is that we should avoid the sort of self-righteousness or legalism which makes us ready to condemn others for the faults we see in them — the sort of thing which leads people to say certain people should be excluded from the church or to say that they must live up to our standards if they want to be welcome.
Another lesson is, once more, the mercy of God. He does not condemn. He calls us. He calls us to live holy lives, but he never gives up on us.