Commentary for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C | Forgetting What Lies Behind

Posted on April 4, 2022 View all Gospel Reflection

Once again this week, the Gospels present us with an episode of immense mercy and forgiveness. Where last week we considered the parable of the Prodigal Son, this week Christ forgives not merely in a parable but in actual fact. In this case, He frees the woman caught in adultery from her tremendous sin. If we consider this Gospel together with the witness of this weekend’s other readings, it can become for us a powerful call to abandon fear and race towards our loving God with courage and repentance.

            Before anything else, we want to make sure that we do not blunt the impact of the Gospel story by misunderstand what is occurring. We might look at the woman caught in adultery and minimize her sin, focusing instead on the cruelty of the scribes and Pharisees. Certainly, they are unacceptably cruel in their hearts, but if we miss the actual sin of the woman in question, we miss the power of Christ’s words. This woman is not merely a misunderstood and oppressed figure. With our world’s desire for and idealization of forbidden love, we might make the mistake of seeing her sin as excusable, and sympathizing entirely with her. In that case, the Lord’s mercy would have been the foregone conclusion of any decent person. This is not the case. Christ loves her even though she has killed her own soul by breaking her own marriage vows, and helping the man in question to do the same. It is a shame that the man with whom she sinned was seemingly not held to account, since being brought before Jesus as well might have saved his soul, dead in sin.

            Indeed, the woman comes to Jesus with a mortally wounded soul. Her accusers are also dead in spirit, since they desire only her punishment, not following the Lord who says: “I do not desire the death of the sinner, but that he turn back to me and live.” Into this scene of death, Christ brings life itself. He shames the accusers, reminding them of their own sins, and destroys the sin of the adulterous woman, giving her new life. Then comes the most important moment of the episode: Jesus tells the woman to move on in her new life.

            Here is the heart of the matter. Christ commands the forgiven woman to move on in her life with God: “go and sin no more.” He does not tell her to dwell on the sin or to beat herself up for what she has done. She has received new life from Life Himself. She must not sin again, yes, and that will require a change in the way she lives her life, but she also must run ahead, pursuing the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. In the first reading, the Lord says through the prophet, “see, I am doing something new!” St. Paul, himself a man with a past full of deep sin, says in our second reading that he is “forgetting what lies behind, but straining for what lies ahead.” The readings, taken together, urge us to hand our sins and past failing over to Christ our God, receive from Him that new life which cannot die, and leave what is forgiven in the past, pressing forward towards the life of heaven with all joy and gratitude.

            As this Lent draws closer and closer to its close, we have this path open to us. If we have not been to Confession yet this season, there is still time to go and confess all our sins, including any sins from our past we may have forgotten. If we have made a good Lenten confession, we can make the choice to leave our sins behind us, and look forward to the Lord. If any sin we’ve already confessed still troubles us, we can offer it again to the Lord with thanksgiving for His mercy, and choose again to believe in His goodness, hope in the reward He offers, and love Him with everything we have. In this way, we can be truly ready for the Easter season, confident not in ourselves but in the forgiveness and help of the one who calls us.