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Cycle C

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 18, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


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Jesus is a man on fire, on fire with the redeeming love of God Jesus burns with a profound passion to establish the Reign of God, a kingdom of justice and peace. A kingdom where peace is the fruit of justice, where all God’s people live in right relationship with each other. Jesus is so consumed with love of His heavenly Father and with a desire for all of his heavenly Father’s children to live in peace, that he is willing to be baptized in his own blood poured forth from the cross.

The fire of Jesus’ love brings warmth to those whose hearts have grown cold in despair. The fire of Jesus’ love brings light to those who walk in the darkness of suffering. The fire of Jesus’ love purifies hearts that have grown hard with indifference and apathy.

Jesus’ words and life are meant to call people, all people, to repentance. Remember, to repent does not mean feeling sorry but to change the way you think.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ constantly challenges us to change the way we think about ourselves, others, and God. Division happens not because of Jesus or his message, but because of the effects of what he does and says.

People are challenged to make a choice— I will change the way I think, and so change the way I live and love OR I will not. This is where the division comes in, as some choose to follow Jesus, to learn from him, to grow in their understanding of what is required of them to live as children of God. Then there are those who refuse to listen, who refuse to change their minds, who even plan and plot his death.

From the time Jesus was born, he was a threat to those in power, as the Holy Family fled as refugees into Egypt, escaping the murderous intents of King Herod. As an adult, Jesus tells Pilate, “I came into the world to testify to the truth,” (Jn. 18:37) and then he is tortured and killed for doing so.

To live the Gospel message, to establish the reign of justice and peace, is challenging. We face opposition from others who resist our efforts at bringing about the Kingdom of God. It can be difficult to be merciful and kind in a culture which encourages retribution and revenge. We do separate ourselves from others, we are divided from them, when we disturb them with the tough love of kindness and the humble deeds of mercy.

The first followers of Jesus struggled to put Jesus’ teachings into practice. Remember back when we began this journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel, when he wanted to pass through a Samaritan town, but the Samaritans there would not allow him passage. Recall the reaction of James and John— “Lord, do you want to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” (cf Lk 9: 52-56) Jesus rebuked the Sons of Thunder who wanted to call down lightning upon their enemies, and instead they went peacefully on to another town.

It can be exhausting to work for peace in a world that glorifies violence. The peace of Jesus Christ is much more than the absence of war— it is when all people live in right relationship to each other, when the goods of the earth are shared justly so that no longer a few hold onto most of the world’s wealth.

Recall Jesus’ inaugural address in Luke’s Gospel: “I have come to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind.” (cf Lk. 4:18) Those who benefit from the status quo, from the way things are, do not want to see how they have to change. They would rather remain blind, refusing to recognize Christ in the stranger and the oppressed, in the poor and the powerless.

Jesus came into conflict with those who exploited the weak and the poor. His dream of all people being welcome in the Kingdom of God brought him into conflict with the narrow minded and the bigoted.

Promoting and defending the dignity of every human life is exhausting in a culture of death. Responding to vengeance with forgiveness is challenging. Working for that peace which is the full fruit of justice is a tiring task.

But we are invited to persevere in running this race of faith and to not give up hope.

One Saturday morning back when I was a college freshman I entered a 3 mile race. The race began on a steep hill right outside my dorm room. I sprinted down that hill and for the first mile or so I was staying with the leaders of the race. But then a little while after mile one I felt as if my lungs were on fire and my legs felt like lead. I could not keep running.

I started walking, trudging along with my head down, wondering how I was going to finish the race. A little kid came running by me and shouted out— “Come on mister, you can finish the race.” His words gave new life to my legs and fresh breath to my lungs. I started to run again, and I did finish the race.

God sends people into our lives who encourage us to persevere in running the race of faith, especially when we are tired and worn out, especially when we grow weary and lose heart. God sends people here on earth, as well as those who have gone before us to heaven. They encourage us by their prayers and their love to keep on keeping on. They are the great cloud of witnesses, who surround us each day, and urge us on.

All of them say, “Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.” (cf >Hebrews 12:2

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 21, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


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We know from the opening verse of today’s 1st reading that the Lord God, under the disguise of the stranger, is visiting Abraham. But Abraham is not aware that it is the Lord God visiting him until the end of this encounter. He simply performs the customary hospitality which is part of life in the Middle East.

However, Abraham goes beyond what is customary to prepare a feast for these three strangers, who in some interpretations represent the Trinity, the Triune God. With his wife, Sarah’s help, he feeds these strangers fresh homemade bread and fresh meat—the best steak possible—a sign of extravagant hospitality!

Abraham could have reacted in fear to these three strangers and rejected them. Or he could have simply hid away for a while and ignored them. But Abraham chose to receive them with love, and in doing, so received the Lord God. The gift of life he shared he would receive back a hundredfold in the promise of new life giving to barren Sarah and him— a long awaited son would soon be theirs.

Martha and Mary welcome the Son of God in disguise as he visits their home. Under the disguise of the hungry visitor, the Son of God enters the home of Mary and Martha.

Mary has a sense of the divine presence in Jesus, so she sits at his feet to soak in his words and bask in his loving presence. Now from Abraham and Sarah’s example, we know this is not the typical kind of Middle Eastern hospitality.

On the other hand, by preparing the meal, Martha is doing what is expected. However, she is not focused on welcoming the stranger, but on her lazy sister. Jesus does not criticize Martha for her good work—it is important— In fact, I suspect she is a very good cook and Jesus enjoys the meals she prepares. Jesus points out to Martha that she feels burdened and anxious because she is not focusing on Him. She is not bringing her burdens to Him, but focused only on what Mary is not doing. Martha is anxious because all her thoughts and energy are focused on “lazy” Mary. In effect, Jesus’ response to Martha is “Pay attention to yourself, Martha, not to Mary, and pay attention to me—give me your whole heart and mind and strength in preparing the meal.”

I think if Martha would have invited Jesus to help her, he would have gladly joined her in the kitchen, and Mary would have joined them. All three would have been in the kitchen sharing life with each other. The only thing Jesus wants is be with Martha in everything, to have her invite Him to be with her in her work and her play, her rest and her rising.

We are to invite Jesus into every part of our lives. We are to welcome him in every person who touches our lives, especially in the stranger.

Blessed Stanley Rother, whose feast day we celebrate next Sunday, did this. He left his native Oklahoma to live thousands of miles away in Guatemala, loving Jesus present in the stranger in Santiago Atitlan. Fr. Rother did this in a simple yet profound way by sharing meals with his people in their homes. He became the presence of God to them by breaking bread with them at their tables.

Every time Fr. Rother went to a parishioner’s home to eat he knew he would be sick afterward, because they could not sanitize their food, and he would suffer as a result. But he rejoiced in his suffering, because it was a redemptive suffering, a suffering in love of the other, so he would go again and again to share meals with his people.

Fr. Rother gave his life away to his people day after day, so the natural consequence was for him to give his life fully for them in his martyrdom. His death was the result of a life poured out in loving God living in the stranger.

Now the people of Guatemala are coming here in great need. With Blessed Stanley Rother’s help, can we welcome Christ in them?

Loving one’s neighbor means pursuing what is best for the other before pursuing what is best for oneself. Abbot Benedict of Conception Abbey, Missouri, in an article last year in the quarterly publication of Tower Topics, writes how the Rule of Benedict calls this kind of loving “good zeal” or “the way to God.”

Abbot Benedict points out that the way to God begins with showing respect to one another, supporting one another in weakness, and pursuing what is best for the other. He explains that hospitality and charity toward others leads to fruitful prayer and contemplation. In other words, love of neighbor leads to love of God in prayer, which is why I believe St. Luke placed the Parable of the Good Samaritan immediately before this encounter between Jesus and Mary and Martha.

There are many methods and books available about prayer. But those methods will not be fruitful unless we are seeking to love our neighbor.

The Son of God, the stranger from another world who has made our world his home, sits down at table with us here. We welcome him as our guest, but actually he is always the Host of this meal.

Thus one of the words for the bread which becomes the body of Christ–the HOST.

He comes to satisfy our hunger, to take away our fear. He comes with His peace to lift the burden of our worries and anxieties. He will be our strength and our guide on our own journey to the new Jerusalem.


15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 14, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


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What must I do to inherit eternal life? That’s the question, right? The most important question. What must I do to inherit eternal life? But if eternal life comes to us by loving God with all that we are (mind, heart, being, and strength) and loving our neighbor as ourselves, then we want to know, with the scholar of the law, who our neighbor is we are to love.

The scholar of the law, having spent his life immersed in Sacred Scripture, knows the specific command to love one’s neighbor as oneself is found only one place in the entire Hebrew Scriptures, in the 19th chapter of the Book of Leviticus. “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18) But he also knows that a few verses later in this 19th chapter of Leviticus, the Word of God says: “You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for the alien as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Lev. 19:34) (Now the word “alien” does not refer to creatures from another planet, but to the foreigners living in the midst of the people of Israel.)

But what about aliens who do not live in one’s village? What about strangers or people met along the road? To the scholar of the law, the command to love one’s neighbor is still unclear. He wants Jesus to clearly define who the neighbor is, to put some boundaries around this commandment to love, to place some limits on it.

Notice Jesus does not answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”. In fact, the man who is half-dead, who is helped by the Good Samaritan, could be anyone from anywhere—he has no name, no identity, no race, no ethnicity, and is not identified as belonging to the nation of Israel or any other nation. The only thing that identifies him is he is someone who is in need.

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus shows us what it looks like to be neighbor by treating whoever is in need with mercy. Jesus turns the whole question of “Who is my neighbor” on its head. Instead of judging whether others are worthy of love and then limiting one’s love to this or that group, Jesus instead challenges us to judge ourselves to see whether we are neighbor to those in need.

Being neighbor to those in need flows from compassion, which gives birth to mercy. Compassion—feeling with others, opening ourselves to their pain— leads to doing something for them.

The priest and the Levite are self-centered and selfish— they do nothing at all for the man in need. The Good Samaritan is moved by compassion and treats the hurting man with mercy. Why?

Martin Luther King puts it this way. The priest and the Levite, upon seeing the man half-dead alongside the road, ask themselves: “If I help this man, what will happen to me” The Good Samaritan acts with mercy because he asks himself a different question: “If I do not help this man, what will happen to him?”

The English word, “compassion”, in this Gospel text comes from the Greek word: splanchnizomai. It literally means to be moved in one bowels, to be moved in the depths of one’s person. It is the same Greek verb used to express what happens in the Merciful Father’s heart when he sees his prodigal son returning home, propelling the Father to run out and embrace his wayward son. It is a strong feeling, very different from pity, for to “pity” someone simply means we look down upon them—”you poor thing.” To have compassion means to feel in our heart something of the pain the other feels.

Compassion leads to doing something, to acting with mercy. Compassion can be felt, but mercy needs to be enacted with the body. Compassion is the fuel for concrete acts of mercy, for tending to the wounds of others.

This parable of mercy reveals that love of neighbor, being a compassionate neighbor to others, demonstrates one’s love for God. For we cannot love the God we do not see if we do not love the neighbor we can see. (cf 1 John 4:20)

Love of God is seen most clearly in love of neighbor, and cannot be separated from love of neighbor. By neglecting our neighbor in need, we distance ourselves from God.

This commandment to love neighbor extends beyond individual interaction to the way nations interact with each other, as our Pope pointed out on January 7th in his address to the Vatican diplomatic corps. Pope Francis’ plea this past January to the ambassadors of the Holy See might be summarized as, “Put Your Neighbors First Again.” He challenged all nations, America included, to go beyond policies which isolate them from the rest of the world and instead recognize our shared humanity, which goes beyond borders.

The reality of global interdependence, according to Pope Francis, is that all peoples have their common origin in God. Also, all peoples share a common destiny, to return to God who made them for himself.

Every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. Catholic Social teaching is built on this foundational truth, from which flows respect for the dignity of every person, respect for every human life.

So, fear must be overcome by respecting the dignity of the other, and that hatred which fear easily gives birth to must be vanquished by compassion.

When the foreigner, the Samaritan, is held up by Jesus as a model for acting with mercy, can we not act with mercy toward the foreigner? The United States is at its greatest by attending to the needs of our neighbors first, especially those in greatest need.

In Jesus Christ, we see God and humanity come together. In Jesus Christ, we see God and the neighbor come together. In Jesus Christ, we see God is love, and that to love God, we must love the neighbor.

Jesus Christ is the Good Samaritan who binds our wounds, who lifts us up and loves us into new life, and then sends us forth to do the same.

Now we have an answer to the Gospel of last Sunday regarding how we are to proclaim the Kingdom of God. We are sent by Jesus as one of the “72” missionary disciples to love as we have been loved: to love our neighbor, placing no limits on who that might be; to be a neighbor to others hurting along the road; to act with Mercy!


14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 7, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


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Last Sunday we began our journey to Jerusalem with Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. On this journey we enter into a special school of discipleship where he teaches us what it means to live in the Kingdom of God and how to share the good news of that kingdom with others.

This good news is meant to be shared with the entire world, thus the sending of 72 disciples to share it. That number—72—comes directly from the 10th Chapter of Genesis— when it was thought there were 72 nations in the whole world.

Every single one of the baptized is given this mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God, of bringing this Good News into the whole world. But what exactly is this good news?

St. Paul summarizes it in only a few words— the cross of Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God has erupted in the world because the King of Kings generously poured out his life in absolute love for His Father on the cross. We are swept up into this love that makes us a new creation in baptism, a love giving us a share in divine life and divine joy.

This news seems too good to be true—while we were still sinners Christ died for us. This news appears too good to be true—the Son of God by dying has destroyed the power of death—we have nothing to fear. This news seems too good to be true—Jesus Christ loves us, he gave his life to save us. But as we receive Christ Jesus, we realize it is true, for he is God’s gift freely given to us.

Sharing the Good News is not meant to be difficult because it is first and foremost about our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Before we can be sent as one of the “72”, we need to know Him and his love for us. For we cannot share what we have not received. We cannot give away what we have not accepted.

St. Paul calls himself the greatest of sinners because of his persecution of Christ, yet knows he is loved beyond all reason by the same Christ Jesus. That’s why Paul only boasts in the cross of Christ.

Some in the Christian community in Galatia reject this good news, listening to other preachers who tell them they have to do something more than respond in faith to Jesus. These “false preachers” have convinced some of Paul’s flock that they have to be circumcised and follow all the prescriptions of the Jewish Law before they can become Christian. Because of his experience of Christ’s unmerited love for him, Paul knows this is not true. Rather, he proclaims that Jesus’ love changes us, makes us into a “new creation.”

Being Christian is not supposed to be complicated. Simply receive the One who has been looking for you all your life long, the One who driven by love seeks out and finds the lost, bringing them home to the Father of all.

Experiencing His saving love, we naturally wants to share it, to give it away to others.

How we share this Good News is important, too. That we are loved comes first, but then proclaiming the Kingdom of God only happens in relationship to others. Evangelization—sharing the Good News—happens as a result of relationship. That’s why preaching on street corners does not do much good— the preacher does not know the people to whom he is talking, nor they him.

Notice how we are sent into the world by the Lord Jesus. He does not tell us to take much at all — other than our very self to others. In other words, sharing the Good News is a ministry of Presence. For 3 years Jesus traveled around Israel without a job, with nothing to his name, depending on others to feed him. He brought the Kingdom to life in and through his very person, by his loving presence, by the relationships he nurtured and developed with others.

The same is true for we Christians, who carry Him in our very persons to others. It is good to know the Bible, but we do not need to be able to quote chapter and verse. It is good to know the basic beliefs of our faith, but we do not need to know the Catechism of the Church backwards and forwards. We do not need to be trained in the latest, greatest program on evangelization. We do not have to have all the answers, but rather be willing to be with people in their questioning and doubts, in their struggles and fears. By being present to others in love, we bring them to the Lord of Love.

So, we proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God by making a friend, growing in friendship with that person, and then bringing them to the Lord.

Notice how this is the pattern in the mission of the 72. They taking nothing with them. They are to trust that there will be those who will receive and welcome them, who will want to grow in relationship with them. They do the very human thing of sharing meals with those who welcome them. They sit down at table and break bread with others, getting to know them.

Only after doing this, do they cure the sick and announce the Kingdom of God. Making a friend comes first, being a friend follows, and then the Kingdom of God can not only be proclaimed but received.

The definition of a Christian is someone who has come to know a Christian. It’s all rooted in the relationship. The Kingdom of God is at hand— close enough to touch in us— as we extend our hands in compassionate love to others.

There is another relationship that is essential to fulfill our mission to proclaim the Kingdom. That is the relationship with other vital Christians, with those who are on the same journey as us and given the same mission of bringing the Good News of God’s love to the world. We do not and cannot do this alone. There is a reason Jesus sends us out in “pairs“.

We are strengthened and encouraged by our relationships with other vital Christians. Finding nourishment from a community of Faith sustains us in our mission. So we come back together to the table of the Lord to experience once again the saving gift of His Presence as he feeds us with His body and blood.

We go out, not alone, but with the support of one another, to share the love and life we have received.


Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (Deacon Hough)

June 16, 2019

Deacon Bill Hough


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In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… This is how Father starts every Mass and is a perfect start today for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.

My wife, Geri, and I were in the same Catholic school when we were young. We were talking about how the nuns taught us from the Baltimore Catechism – a book that was in a question and answer format. We would have to learn the answers for our religion class.

Of course, there were the questions about the Trinity – for instance, “What do we mean by the Trinity? By the Blessed Trinity we mean one and the same God in three Divine Persons”. It would go on to ask if the three Divine Persons are distinct from one another and if they are equal to one another – The answer, of course, is “Yes”.

Then came the best question, “Can we fully understand the Trinity?” The answer is no, it is a supernatural mystery, a truth which we cannot fully understand, but which we firmly believe because we have God’s word for it.

The Church struggled with the theology of the Trinity from the beginning. But with the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, held in the fourth century, the Church affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity. This is where we get the Nicene Creed, the profession of faith we recite at every Sunday Mass.

Human words will never be enough to describe the Trinity – we have words like “consubstantial with the Father” (de la misma naturaleza del Padre) and the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son”. We need a theologian to really explain these words and even then, we might not fully understand.

But we can come to know the Trinity by the actions of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The mystery of Christ coming into the world is a perfect example. Bishop Robert Barron reminds us that this could only happen if Jesus were sent by the Father as an act of (perfect) love.

He writes that, “The Father and the Son are united in love, and this love is itself the divine life. And thus, there is a spirit, co-equal to the Father and the Son, which is the love shared between them”.

The readings for today were chosen to reveal this love and unity.

In our first reading from Proverbs, we find the wisdom of God – there at the creation of the world – who was the witness of the creative power of God at work.

St. Paul tells the Romans that we Christians can even boast of our afflictions. He explains our source of hope. The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that everything that the Father has is His. The Spirit then will take from Christ all that is His and will declare to His disciples the things that are coming. The Spirit will invite the disciples into this community of divine relationship – the community of the love and unity of the one God in three persons.

Jesus invites us into that same relationship today.

The word “Trinity” is not found in Scripture but is one of the most important words for us Christians. It is the word the Church uses to describe God Himself. But it is much more than just a single word. It does three things for us.

First it tells us who God is – God the creator of all things, God the Redeemer who gave us His Body and Blood to save us, and God the Advocate who is with us today to guide us to the truth.

Second it tells us what God is – merciful, gracious, slow to anger, rich in kindness and fidelity, and most importantly, a God of unbroken and eternal love.

Third it tells us who we are and how we are required to act. Each of us – every woman and man – is made in the image of God and each of us is called to be like God – to live the divine life. Our relationship with all our brothers and sisters is to be the unconditional love and unity of the Trinity.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…


The Ascension of the Lord

June 2, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


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In my homily last Sunday, I spoke about a number of different ways to understand who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit is the love of the Father. The Holy Spirit is the love uniting Father and Son in the unity of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit also reminds us of all Jesus said and did.

The Holy Spirit is the source of unity, the bringer about of unity in times of conflict and division, as seen from the very beginning of the Church at the 1st Church Council in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit is also the gift of the peace of the Risen Lord. As the Risen Lord breathes on the disciples in that locked upper room, he says, “Peace be with you.” He gives them the Spirit, the gift of peace which the world cannot give.

Today, as we celebrate the wonderful mystery of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into glory, the Scriptures speak about the Holy Spirit as POWER! In Luke’s Gospel, before the Lord Jesus ascends into heaven, he comforts his disciples by saying they will be “clothed with power from on high.” This language at the end of Luke reminds us of the words of the archangel Gabriel at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel as Mary asks how it will happen that she will be the mother of the Son of God. Gabriel assures the Virgin Mary: “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Lk 1:35)

This power of God, this divine power, is given so we can be witnesses to the Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus. How? By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be the love of God for others. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be a source of unity and the very presence of the Lord’s peace in our world.

The Lord Jesus ascends into glory to be seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven, so that the Holy Spirit might descend in power upon the followers of the Lord Jesus. The power of the Spirit draws us home to the Father, for where the Son of God has gone we are called to follow. For by baptism, we have been joined to Him as members of His Body. The Risen Christ is the head of the Body, the Church, so that where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.

In his human body while he walked the earth in 1st century Palestine, Jesus could only be present to a limited number of people. But now, through the powerful gift of the Spirit, He can be present to all people of all places of all times. The most basic “task” of the Holy Spirit is to make the Risen Lord Jesus present. Where the Spirit it, Christ Jesus is. By the Spirit, we are joined to Him as members of the Body are joined to the Head.

By ascending into glory and taken His place at the right hand of the Father in heaven in his glorified human body, the Lord Jesus has taken with him all humanity into heaven. He has shown us the way home.

Nothing and no one else satisfies us except for the fullness of life with God in heaven. For we have been made by God out of love, and to love we are called to return. All of our life on this earth is simply a return home to the God who made us out of love and for love forever. The Lord Jesus has prepared the way for us and shown us our destiny.

The mystery of the Ascension is not something that happened in the past, but by the power of the Spirit is happening now as we join in the procession of humanity back home to the Father’s side.

By the power of the Spirit, we have the strength to make this journey home. Our life in the Spirit is nourished as we process to the altar to be joined to the Risen and Glorified Lord in Holy Communion. As we join in this Communion procession, we come to the Lord Jesus to surrender our lives more completely into His Hands, that He might lead us home by the power of the Spirit.

So that instead of living out of fear, we can live lives of joy. So that instead of holding on to our money and material things, we can share them generously. Because we know that this earth is not our home but our lasting home is with the Triune God in heaven where we will experience the fullness of life.


5th Sunday of Lent

April 7, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


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Caught-brought-made to stand there. Caught-brought-made to stand there. These are verbs of power and control and dominance. What the Pharisees and the scribes are about is finding people in sin and holding them there. In particular, the picture of the woman “made to stand in the middle” conveys this holding action.

They are staring at her. The stare is the special tool of the self-righteous. The stare turns the person being stared at into an object, holding them in the mistake in which they have been caught. Jesus never stares at people—he gazes at them with wonder and merciful love.

The scribes and the Pharisees also want to trap Jesus so that they can hold him in sin. That’s what they do, their “modus-operandi.” The Pharisees and scribes hold people in sin for a living, so they ask Jesus a tricky question to trap him.

But their deceitful question gives Jesus the raw material for his response. Moses/stones/the-very-act-of-adultery stirs up the founding events of Israel in the desert. The question which the scribes and the Pharisees use to try and trap Jesus gives him an opportunity to reveal the God of forgiveness and mercy who is at the heart of the Law.

Jesus does not respond at first to their question about whether this adulterous woman deserves to be stoned to death. Instead he bends down to write on the ground with his finger.

People get all caught up in trying to guess what Jesus wrote, when that is not really the important point. Rather, the important point is he writes on ground hard as rock with his finger, calling to mind the almighty God on Mt. Sinai using his finger to write on stone the 10 commandments. The other important detail is that Jesus does this twice. He writes on the ground 2 times, calling to mind the foundational event in the history of God’s chosen people, when God wedded himself to Israel by giving them the 10 commandments on 2 separate occasions.

When Moses brings the 2 tablets of the commandments down the mountain the first time, he catches the people in the very act of adultery, worshipping a golden calf. So soon after being freed from slavery in Egypt by God’s mighty deeds, & experiencing the Red-Sea-rescue, they have turned away from God to worship an idol. In his anger, Moses smashes the 2 tablets of the 10 commandments, Then later Moses goes back up the mountain with a new set of stone tablets for God to use.

But before God stretches out his finger to etch again into stone the law, he tells Moses who He is: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6) The God who is the giver of the Law is patient, kind, and always faithful.

The history of God’s relationship with the people whom he weds by this covenant is that time and time again they will break the covenant and will be unfaithful. But God will remain faithful, forgiving adulterous Israel over and over again, and calling them back to His side.

It is very significant that Jesus’ answer (“Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”) is given between the two times he writes on the stone-hard ground with his finger. For just as God had revealed to Moses who He is between the 1st and 2nd giving of the commandments, so Jesus reveals who the people are to be for each other. FORGIVING! Forgiving as God is forgiving.

There are no sinless ones. Israel herself is only alive because God has forgiven her many adulteries. No one can cast the first stone for everyone lives by the grace of a forgiving God. Holding people in their sins while holding yourself innocent is delusional. The question is not the condemnation of adultery but the continuing blindness of people to the universal necessity of forgiveness. This is the heart of the Law of Moses— it reveals that all are sinners, all have fallen short of the glory of God, and all are in need of the forgiveness of God.

The woman, who alone stays by Jesus’ side, experiences this forgiveness and begins life anew. She is sent by Jesus into a new life—he does not hold her in her sin, but simply invites her to go and sin no more. She who had been standing on the very precipice of death is given new life.

As Jesus is, so we are to be toward each other, with his help—forgiving to set others free. Forgiving for life, instead of condemning to death.

The God of second chances, by his forgiveness, gives us a new lease on life. The God who is a Merciful Father grants us his wayward sons and daughters forgiveness, raising us from the death of sin to new life. The God who Jesus reveals is a God who frees us from sin and gives us a fresh start.

Jesus is accused over and over again by the self-righteous ones of eating with sinners. The self-righteous, who define others by their sin and hold them in their sin, cannot see others beyond their sin. Jesus sees the person beneath the sin, sees that a human being is always more than their greatest sin, and sets them free to grow into their dignity as a son or daughter of God.

St. Paul experiences this freeing forgiveness of the Risen Jesus, even though he is the greatest of sinners. Paul comes to know Christ Jesus as the one who sets him free from his sinful past as a persecutor of Jesus and his followers. Paul knows Jesus as the one who invites him to forget what lies behind, who does not hold him in his sin, but invites him into a new life, and a future full of hope and new life. So, Paul counts everything else as rubbish when compared to knowing Christ Jesus and the power of his death and resurrection, which has set Paul free.

We are invited to be “forgiving for life” instead of condemning and being condemned to death. With Jesus’ help we are invited to offer the gift of forgiveness which sets others free.

Holding people in their sin is not the “special gift” of the scribes and the Pharisees. Holding people in their mistakes is a popular pastime. Few can resist it—it is an all too common procedure. In fact, it is so common it is taken for granted. We do not consciously choose to do it, we just mindlessly engage in it. We read an obituary of someone we know well and fill in the blanks with all the sins they committed in their lifetime. We unreflectively remark that she is doing quite well for an ex-addict, thereby using addiction as the permanent reference point for her life. Prison sentences are never over.

Instead of forgiving for life, we hold others in their sin and kill any chance they have for a new life. A spouse holds their spouse in the sin of an affair forever, not forgiving the adulterous spouse, but punishing the one who has sinned over and over again.

But when we hold people in their sins, it affects not only them but us, because we hold onto their sin and the hurt it caused us. This becomes like stones in our soul, slowly crushing the life out of us. We live in the past, giving over our present peace and future happiness to the one who has hurt us. When we forgive, with the Lord’s help, we are set free for life.


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