In this excellent homily for 5th Sunday of Lent, Year C, Father Hanly teaches us we must share God’s forgiveness with each other.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Second Reading: Philippians 3:8-14
Gospel: John 8:1-11
Recording of Gospel
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
This is a wonderful gospel. It preaches and teaches for itself. There’s no need even to comment on it. But, I’m sure, the one thing I’d like to say is you should be warned.
Because I’m sure all of you are saying, in your hearts, “Yes, we must forgive.” And this is the lesson that Jesus wants us to know: we must forgive.
But John is saying something quite different. He wants us to put ourselves in the shoes of the lady, the lady who got lost along the way and then was dragged in and thrown in front of this group of judging people and heard the words that Moses said, she should be stoned, and that they were all going to do that so that the law would be fulfilled.
This was a Jewish lady and the law was at the very heart of everything that she ever believed in. And she was a daughter of Abraham, a daughter of Isaac, and here she found herself in this angry mob. And then what hope had she?
What we are supposed to do is to recognise two things. Number one is we must forgive if we claim to be Christians. Number two is we are not Jesus forgiving. We have no right to forgive this woman. How have we the right to forgive this woman, and this is the point of the gospel, for the woman is us. We, too, are believers. We, too, go astray very quickly. We, too, turn away from the goodness and loveliness of God Himself. We, too, are worthy to be brought before a tribunal to be judged for what we have done. And we have no response.
We are asked to admit the fact, as little St Francis of Assisi said, “Of all the sinners, I am the worst,” because he’s the only one who could look into his own soul and find out in the depths of his own soul the many ways he refused to love enough and care enough, the many ways he was ungrateful and unkind. And he himself would be the first to admit it. And they would say to him, “Francis, Francis, stop that, everybody knows you’re a holy man.” And Francis would say to them, “What I say is the truth. I cannot look into the hearts of others, but only my own, and I know that without the forgiveness and grace of God I would be lost as well.” That’s a very good thing to remember.
The other very lovely touch is when…
Jesus knows that he’s being put on trial. The rule for an adulteress to be stoned in public, in all the history of Israel, and they write their history down very carefully, people died of many, many things, some natural, some violent, but there is never in all of that history mentioned that a woman taken in adultery was stoned by anyone.
These are cautionary tales, these are to make us understand, which we could understand today, is that marriage vows are sacred and they should never be broken. And it is, as Jesus says, when we do wrong and we hurt children that a millstone should be tied around our neck and thrown into the sea. He’s talking in the same way, that we should be careful. We should be careful of other people and recognise our own need for forgiveness and our own need for improvement.
The nice part is when he goes to her, he doesn’t say, “I forgive you. Now you can clap your hands and jump around and I will get all the credit.” He says, “Does any man condemn you?” And she looks around and they’re all gone and she says, “No.” And then Jesus says, “Well, if they all forgive you, I am not going to condemn you.”
What he is saying is, of course, all his disciples should learn the great lesson. When Peter says, “How often should I forgive? Seven times?” Jesus says, “Seventy times seven.” Because it’s not your forgiveness. Who are you to forgive? It’s God’s forgiveness.
And when he sends his disciples out into the world, he doesn’t say, “Go out and forgive everybody.” He says, “Bring the forgiveness of my Father. All is forgiven and you are the vessel of God’s forgiveness.”
And even when we forgive each other in our small way, it is not our forgiveness, it is God’s forgiveness. And if we could remember our own need for it, then we will remember that we are called to share it, to share it with others, just as we share the many sins and the many imperfections with others. Now it is God who erases them all and brings us together as one family.
And that is the loveliness of today’s gospel. It is saying not merely that you don’t judge each other, which is very stupid because we ourselves have committed so many sins we can’t even count them, but it is saying that, when we look into ourselves and see our weaknesses and ask for God’s forgiveness, we join ourselves to each other and the whole world is forgiven by God.
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This homily was delivered on 21st March 2010.
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