Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

Reflection for Morning Praise Fifth Sunday of Lent March 13, 2016

Not any of us were in Rome this past December, but imagine the thrill of being there and seeing Pope Francis throw open the door of mercy, a dramatic symbol to begin the Extraordinary Year of Mercy. But perhaps even more memorable would be standing there and hearing these words from Pope Francis:

“How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy. We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event, God’s judgment will always be in the light of his mercy”—which is infinite!

“Mercy before judgment.” What a powerful statement on God’s patient and loving kindness! Judgment is not the final word. It is God’s mercy that sets us free to turn from our old ways and pursue what is new.
In the first reading for today, the prophet Isaiah sets the stage for all three readings. “See, I am doing something new; opening a new way through the mighty waters.”

The desert is changed. It becomes something new—a source of flowing water for God’s chosen people, and indeed for all who thirst.

And in the second reading, St. Paul is changed. In his declining years, he, now in prison, tells the Philippians that he has to let go of the past and push on to what is new. He is coming to understand the painful enigma of suffering by seeing it in the redeeming light of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

In the Gospel, the Pharisees are asked to consider something new—to let go of their rigid interpretation of the law and recognize that we are all sinners and that the God of their fathers is a God of mercy.

The unnamed woman, shamed by the condemnation of the Pharisees, is changed. By writing on the ground, Jesus ignores the questions of her accusers and gives her a gift only he can give, time to repent. He invites her to turn from her old ways and to walk with a merciful, patient God who makes all things new.

Clearly, this Gospel reading is not focusing on moral behavior, but on Jesus’ power to transform us from the inside out. It is the God within who frees us from our sins and our anxieties.

It is the God within who frees us to forgive those who have offended us. Forgiveness does not excuse someone’s behavior nor require that we forget what has happened. Neither does it condemn with a sense of superiority. Forgiveness is abandoning our resentment, swallowing our pride, letting go of our anger, resisting the urge to descend into criticism while feeling that we are better than the rest.

It is God’s mercy that sets us free to turn from our old ways and pursue what is new.

I close with a story from Bishop Paul Zipfel. I don’t remember the detail, but someone had died, reached heaven, and learned that to enter he needed a score of 100 points in good deeds. Actually, he felt confident and began to list his works as a volunteer; that came to 5 points. So he told of his generosity to the Church; he tithed, he was a lector and an usher which brought him to 10 points. Then he began to talk about his family; the children all went to Catholic schools; he and his wife were known for their charity. It came to a grand total of 15 points and he fell into despair. He cried out, “I’ll have to cast myself at the feet of God and beg for mercy.” The doors of mercy were thrown open and he heard the words, “Welcome home, my beloved.”

~Sister Thomas Welder


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