[5th Sunday of Lent, Year C, 13 March 2016 / Isa 43:16-2 / Ps 126:1-2a, 2b-3, 4-5, 6 / Phil 3:8-14 / John 8:1-11]
THIS week’s gospel recounts the well known episode when Jesus encounters the adulterous woman. As St Augustine noted, it was the encounter between misery and mercy. The woman caught in flagrant adultery should have been stoned to death, according to the book of Leviticus (Leviticus 20:10). Instead, Jesus bends down and writes on the ground, not once but twice. What did he write? One of the Greek words used is katagraphein, which means to list down. Some have suggested that Jesus was listing down the names of all the men this woman knew and it included all the ones present who wanted to stone her! That’s why they went away!
Writing in the dust reminds us that we come from dust and we return to dust. We are mere dust held together by God’s mercy. Jesus writes on the ground with his finger. “The finger of God” is an image used for the Holy Spirit. Bending down, perhaps he is humbling praying for the Holy Spirit to come and inspire him, to guide him as he deals with this situation. The first reading declares: “Thus says the LORD, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters” (Isaiah 43:16). It is a good reminder to call on God in moments of need and to receive the help of the Holy Spirit. Once a priest was being questioned by a person who loved to look at beautiful women. The man was justifying himself saying that God has made all creation beautiful and that he also gave us eyes to enjoy all the created beauties. The priest about to counsel him asked the Spirit to inspire his response, and then he said to the man, “It is true God gave us eyes to see but he also gave us eyelids to close our eyes sometimes!”
Perhaps this episode of the adulterous woman can help us reflect a little on sexual morality in general. After all the scandal surrounding the abuse of children by clerics, not to mention cases of adultery amongst married people today and a general acceptance of pornography, what is needed is to recover the beauty of chastity. Chastity is a virtue where the person dominates his or her sexuality and is not dominated by it. It is a battle. “Among all combats,” says St Augustine, “the combat for chastity is the most violent, because it is a daily combat, and because victory is rare.”
In the Philippines, there has been increasing reports of the rising number of HIV and AIDS cases. Many would seek to solve this by increasing the number of condoms distributed. However, many today see that the behavior must change, that people must be faithful to their spouses, that those not married must practice abstinence. When Pope Benedict said in 2009 that condoms may not necessarily help the AIDS epidemic but actually worsen it, a storm of protest arose. However, Edward Green, the director of AIDS research at Harvard, supported the Pope, saying that condoms may increase the epidemic as people think they are protected and actually engage in more risky behavior.
The virtue of chastity is the battle for a pure heart. Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God. It requires a real delicacy of heart – even one who looks at a woman with lust commits adultery, said Jesus. To avoid sins against chastity, St. Alphonsus Liguori recommends first to fly from occasions of danger, including closing our eyes when necessary. There are many things on TV, films and the Internet that we shouldn’t be looking at. And don’t play with fire, as the book of Proverbs reminds us, “Can a man walk upon hot coals and not get his feet burnt?” (Proverbs 6:27).
Sometimes the workplace can become a place for indecent jokes – blue jokes in the UK, green jokes in the Philippines. Once in a recollection with a company, I asked them to give me the name of their team during a game. “Green minded,” they told me. “Better to call yourselves ‘Clean Minded!’” I said. Care must be taken in our dialogues with the opposite sex. St Paul reminds us, “Treat younger women as your sister with complete purity” (1 Tim 5:2).
Sometimes a lack of self control leads to sins against chastity. As St Jerome said, “The body that is inflamed with wine will overflow with lust.” Of course, to be free and not dominated by our flesh we need to pray! Prayer helps us nip bad thoughts in the bud. St. Jerome advises, “You must not permit bad thoughts to grow in your mind; no, kill the enemy when he is small. How beautiful then is modesty and what a gem among virtues it is,” notes St. Bernard, Confessor and Doctor of the Church.
Praying the Hail Mary to the Virgin Mary, the “Mother of fair love,” helps us keep our hearts and minds pure. In this way, we can enjoy more the company and friendship of others. Too often in our world of today, the other is presented as an object of desire, to be used, abused, and then thrown away after its sell-by date.
After the sexual sins of this woman ,she receives the forgiveness of Christ. He does not condemn her but neither does he condone her sin. Jesus loves the sinner but hates the sin. That is why he tells her, “Go, and do not sin again.” Let us ask for the grace of a pure heart that can see God. May we grow more in a chaste love for Jesus and for others. And may our hidden options to keep that love pure help sanctify our world of today in need of a love that is pure, unadulterated and faithful. Amen.