Fifth Sunday of Lent saiah 43: 16-21; Philippians 3: 8-14; John 8: 1-11
E ARE WHAT
our past has made us. What I am today is determined in no small way by thc transgressions and missed opportunities of yesterday. Few would 4rgue with this common sense approach to life. We can relive the past in our imaginations, hut we cannot change it. Nor can we reinvent ourselves, becoming that ideal person we always intended to be.
While we cannot change what the past has brought us to, Christ can. He longs to do so. We cannot reinvent ourselves, and yet, for the repentant sinner, Christ creates a new heart and a new today. John's account of the woman taken in adultery proclaims this truth, bringing fresh hope td all who are burdened by the past. The narrative contains no denial of the past. The woman (and her partner) are guilty. Regret and shame can do nothing to change this. When the crowd seeks to draw Jesus into condemnation of the woman, it is doing no more than illustrating the universal link between our past and present.
WHAT APPLIED TO the woman applies to WHAT APPLIED TO the woman applies to ourselves and to the vindictive crowd that accused her. Jesus made them uncomfortably aware of this inescapable logic. If there is one among you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her. There was silence, the same silence that echoes in our hearts when we consider our own past. Jesus silenced the accusers of the woman. He has the same power to silence the clamour which our own past brings against us. The woman's accusers drifted away. Jesus and the woman stood alone. The voices of her past had been banished. Now there was only one accusation that truly mattered: the unspoken repentance in this woman's heart. This Jesus received with forgiveness, restoring the woman to a dignity free from the past. Embraced by unimagined love, she would live life to the full. Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.
Christ is the fulfilment of the promise made by the prophet Isaiah. Israel's sinful past had become a crushing and inescapable burden. The prophet spoke words of hope to a people who could not see beyond their own immediate history. "No need to recall the past, no need to think of what was done before. See. I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light. Can you not see it?" We who long to be free of the past need do no more than open our eyes. Set against our inability to change the past is the power of Christ to forgive, to bring about this new deed in our hearts. He brings peace to the wild beasts that accuse us from the past. He brings water to the wilderness that we have created around ourselves. The wild beasts will honour me, because I am putting water in the wilderness to give my chosen people drink.
With St. Paul we know what our past has made of us. With him, we let go of the past, and its dangerous illusion of self-perfection. The one thing that matters stands before us in Christ. "Everything else I count as loss," Paul says and it is thus that we must all live. All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. I forget the past and strain ahead for what is still to come.