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Fifth Sunday of Lent C: April 3, 2022

John 8: 1-11

Fr. John Tran

What is at the heart of discipleship? One person described it as a transforming encounter with Jesus. Isaiah had his moment when God told him, “Forget the past. See, I am doing something new. Do you not perceive it?” It is God who offers us this encounter, and the time for it is always now. Paul saw this when he moved from knowing about Jesus and begins to speak of knowing Jesus in a very intimate way. He says, “I have been taken possession of by Christ...I do not consider myself to have taken possession.”

But I think that the best example of God’s intervention by doing something new is in today’s Gospel. It is the experience of the woman caught in adultery. The intervention and the something new is that she found compassion when she least expected it.

Look at the scene set before us. A terrified woman whose secret action had been found out, and by those she most feared, the scribes and Pharisees. She expected judgment and condemnation - and she found it. She feared that her life was going to be snuffed out for her unforgivable sin. And that is exactly what her accusers wanted; swift justice and a stoning.

But what did she find when she was rudely brought before Jesus? She found something new: she found compassion. She did not expect that. Instead of harsh words, Jesus said nothing. He did not stare at her, but tactfully looked down, and gave her a moment to collect herself. This was completely new. Jesus told the accusers that the one without sin should throw the first stone. And as the stunned and ashamed men left quietly, Jesus asked her if there was any one to condemn her. When she replied that there were none, he told her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore.” In fact the words were not even that direct, but rather, ‘do not miss the target again.’

The woman caught in adultery described in today’s Gospel has inspired a wide variety of Christian art. The most striking is Jesus and the Fallen Woman,” by Lucas Cranach, the Younger (c. 1570), now exhibited, as is Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son” in The Hermitage at St. Petersburg. At the front center of the painting are Jesus and the woman. Cranach captures that moment when Jesus turns toward the accusers and challenges those without sin to cast a stone. His expression is stern but troubled, and his right hand reaches out toward the woman. Most remarkable, the woman is not bowed to the ground in front of Jesus as in much art work, but is standing at his left. She is very young, with eyes closed, looking forlorn and resigned to her fate. Her head is inclined toward Jesus’ shoulder, and her hand rests on his arm. Most striking, as one follows the lines of the painting, is that her right hand is entwined with the left hand of Jesus in a gesture of exquisite tenderness. The hands of mercy are joined to the hands of a suffering person facing execution. — Jesus and the young woman in Cranach’s painting can be our guides through Lent and Paschaltide. With heads inclined toward Christ and hands intertwined with his, we can go forward as forgiven sinners, yet called to be companions of Jesus; In fact, called be be a faithful disciple.

The woman in this gospel can now be a disciple. She has a transforming encounter with Jesus that redirects her. She must have been filled with the joy of Psalm 126: ’’The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy.” She has found something new: God’s compassion.

Are we awake to a new encounter with Jesus? How can help others to experience something new by showing compassion ourselves? Will we be like the scribes and Pharisees were toward the adulterous woman, or surprise someone with with helping them to change by showing compassion?

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