Summary: Only Jesus, acting through the ministry of the Church, can fill the gaping hole in our hearts.
Fifth Sunday of Lent 2013
“We’ve Tried it All”
“We’ve tried it all,” haven’t we? Our culture certainly has, and many of us have tried to reach fulfillment with everything the world has offered us. Maybe we started out with the high-priced commercials that went along with the Saturday morning cartoons. But the promises of happiness for us when we were seven didn’t even satisfy us at age seven, let alone six months later. We learned that no cereal, no toy, no movie could fill up the rapidly growing absence in our hearts.
My little granddaughter turned five, and that was a relief for my daughter and son-in-law, because all her older siblings were in school, and she wanted to be in school, too. “When can I go to school?” she asked almost as soon as she could talk. “When you’re five,” they answered. Then, when she turned five in July, she thought she should be able to go to school that day. What a disappointment, and what a long month ensued for everyone until finally she could put on her uniform and join her big brother and sister. But, you know, after a few months the thrill was gone and she was looking for something more out of life.
We hit puberty, the time of life where, as one wit put it, you want to look your best, but you actually look your worst, and think that romance and love will come to us and fill up the void we increasingly feel in our hearts. Brain scientists tell us that the decision-making part of our brain, the frontal lobe, is barely developed at that time, but that’s exactly when we need to make good decisions. Many of the choices we make between thirteen and twenty-five are bad ones because we just don’t have the mental apparatus to make them. Whatever we decide, however, we learn that there must be more to life even than romantic love. And if we make some really awful choices, perverse sex, binge drinking, drug abuse, we’ll find ourselves with a gaping hole in our heart and a bunch of chaff trying to stuff into it.
So this woman, age unknown, made a really bad choice. She cheated on her husband and was caught in the act–how, we don’t know. She is dragged in her disheveled state before Jesus, Jesus, the compassionate healer, the teacher of love even of one’s enemies. And the Jewish leaders think they have him over a barrel. “Moses gave a law, and that law says we must stone women like this. What do you say, teacher?” They said this to test him, to entrap him. If he says, “Go ahead and stone her,” they have him twice. He would have rejected His own Gospel of forgiveness, and set himself up to be arrested by the Romans for condoning execution without a Roman trial. If he says, “Let her go free,” he has established himself as rejecting the Jewish Law. Now they had him where they wanted him. Nothing he could say would be OK. This Jesus fellow is finished.
Never in the Gospels does Jesus say “Uh.” He bends down and begins to draw or write on the ground as he fashions his words. He looks up. The Pharisees are grinning widely. He stands and says, simply, “let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone.” Then he bends back down and begins to write again.
Now it is the Pharisees turn to be caught in their own trap. There were over six hundred rules and regulations in the Pharisaic code. There is no way, as St. Paul later said, that anyone could keep them all faithfully every day. They began to drift away in embarrassment, beginning with the oldest of them. And then the Jesus whom we all want to meet as Judge of our lives speaks to the woman, “Where are they? Has nobody condemned you?” “No one, Lord.” And the sinless one says the words of judgement and justification, “Neither do I condemn you; go and no more sinning.”
This is true compassion. Like all those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol or nonmarital sex, this woman was trying to fill up the huge hole in her heart–the God-shaped, God-sized hole–with something that felt good, but injured her. And injured others–the man-adulterer, his wife, his family, his neighbors. There is no such thing as a victimless sin. Ironically, the only party in sin who cannot be hurt is God. God cannot change. You can’t injure God. But our evil actions injure human beings, beginning with the guilt-blowback to our own body, soul and spirit.
Jesus tells the woman the first step to recovering her true humanness, to get back on the road to divine union, is to stop sinning. When we come to confession, that’s the second step to healing–we first confess our sins with sorrow, and we then have to have a firm purpose of amendment, of change. Otherwise we cannot be forgiven. The grace of God poured forth in this woman’s heart when she decided she did not want to sin any more. Whatever be your chronic condition–adultery, pornography, drugs, alcohol, petty theft, contraception, gossip–God can heal you if you allow him to do that.