Though I’ve shared my affection for the parables of Jesus many times before, today’s gospel compels me to do so once again. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is my favorite of Jesus’ stories because it fills me with great hope. Through his depiction of the prodigal son’s father, Jesus offered his best teaching regarding God’s mercy. Good teacher that Jesus is, he followed this beautiful lesson with a concrete, real life example of God’s mercy in action when he encountered a condemned woman…
In his gospel (John 8:1-11), John tells us that the temple elders dragged a woman caught in adultery before Jesus. After forcing her to the center of the crowd, the elders reminded Jesus that The Law required them to stone the woman to death for her transgression. As Jesus considered their remarks, he knelt to write on the ground. No one seemed to notice what Jesus scribbled as they pushed Jesus to respond. Finally, Jesus stood up and said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Though we cannot be certain of what Jesus wrote, might his scrawls in the dirt have been reminders of the crowd’s own sins? Perhaps so, because one by one the angry mob dispersed. When Jesus and the woman were left alone, Jesus asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” The woman’s humiliation faded in Jesus’ kindness, and she responded, “No one, sir.” Jesus continued with the best news this woman would hear in her lifetime: “Neither do I condemn you.”
This poor woman knew The Law as well as the crowd who gathered to punish her. The hatred in their eyes made it quite clear that she was about to die. Never mind that the temple elders and the rest were all sinful in their own ways. When Jesus, who knows every sin and every sinner better than we know ourselves, refused to condemn her, this woman must have been overcome with relief, gratitude and utter amazement. This Jesus, who knew what she had done, also knew the potential for goodness which abided within her. Jesus bade the woman farewell only after he acknowledged just how lovable she was in God’s eyes. Jesus bade the woman farewell only after he challenged her to acknowledge God’s love in the new life she would begin as a result of this encounter. This was the first day of the best of this woman’s life.
One of the most uncomfortable aspects of my humanity is that I understand the concept of sin a bit too well. Though I know better, I hold onto guilt for offenses from childhood and from the lowest points in my life which I should have let go long ago. Though I’ve repented and made amends as best I can, I allow the guilt to remain. Now my affection for the stories and kindnesses Jesus repeatedly offered tell me that this burden is unnecessary. Still, my heart bears the load just the same. Fortunately for me, reminders of God’s mercy are plentiful. Today’s first reading from Isaiah (43:16-21) and the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (3:8-14) underscore Jesus’ message to the woman in the gospel and to each one of us. Isaiah and Paul tell us to “remember not the things of the past” and to “continue my pursuit in hope.” In the name of God who created all that is good, including you and me, Jesus insists that the once-condemned woman and we are to move beyond our past sinfulness. While we are responsible for our actions, we are also responsible to accept God’s forgiveness for them and to do our best to make things right. Afterward, we must forget these transgressions and move on. Though we can’t be certain of how the woman caught in adultery dealt with her challenge, you and I can see to it that we respond by living as God’s beloved and forgiven children.
The parables of Jesus have taught me that had you or I been the intended target of the elders’ stones, Jesus would have responded just as he did to the condemned woman. There is no escaping it. Jesus demonstrates God’s intense love for us and God’s faith in us through both his stories and his interactions with his sinful followers. When I find that I’m at odds with myself, I must remember how fortunate I am to have the attention of the God who parents the prodigal child in each one of us. So it is that God calls you and me to recognize that today’s scriptures aren’t dated testimonials meant for other people in another time. Today’s message is a timeless bit of good news for our sometimes weary and always forgiven souls.
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