Sunday, March 13, 2016

See, I Am Doing Something New

This set of readings was my first homily three years ago. Huzzah! (I didn't actually say the word "huzzah" in a homily. That's for the internet congregation only). These are excellent readings for the end of Lent. Because at this point, hopefully, we've confronted our own sin and our own weakness, and now God says, "It's time to move on, I'm doing something new."

Let's look at the first reading: "Remember not the things of the past, I'm doing something new." And he even mentions good things from the past: how he led Israel through the sea, destroyed the armies of Egypt before them, but he says forget it all. I'm doing something new. A way in the desert. Rivers in wastelands. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it.

Now we start looking ahead, we don't look to the things of the past. It occurs to me that this gospel reading is really about looking ahead. So we have this woman caught in the middle of a very serious sin, with a very serious punishment attached to it. But the Pharisees, they don't care about her, they don't really even care about the punishment, all they care about is trapping Jesus. Because Jewish law said that if two people were caught committing adultery, both of them were to be put to death by stoning, but the man is nowhere to be found here, so clearly the authorities aren't interested in justice according the law. This woman is just a pawn that they're using to try to trap Jesus.

But Jesus refuses to play their game. Side note, scholars have never known what to make of Jesus writing in the dirt. Some suggest Old Testament references, others suggest he's ignoring the Pharisees. But no one really knows. For me, this points to the reality of the story. If Jesus was a myth, if someone was just making up the story to try to create a cult, then details like this don't help. You can imagine someone asking the apostles, "Yeah, but why did Jesus write in the dirt," and they have no profound answer. All they have is, "I dunno. He just did." Details like this that you can't explain don't help the story, and so the only reason they would be here was if it actually happened.

But back to this woman. This woman was in fact caught in a very serious sin. The line that she "was caught in the very act of committing adultery" leaves no question as to her guilt. And in her obvious guilt, she needed help, not condemnation. This woman is the same as each of us. Each of us have been this guilty of awful sins, and when that happens, we know that we need forgiveness, not condemnation.

And that's what Jesus offers her. He encourages her to look ahead, not to the past. But this last line is crucial. "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more." The famous line, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" is not the end of the story. If that were the end, we could all just go on sinning and no one could say anything about it because hey, you're a sinner too. But Jesus doesn't leave it there. Jesus suggests a new path, a new way in the desert of her life. "Go, and from now on do not sin anymore." It's like he's thinking of the line from the first reading, "Remember not the events of the past. See, I am doing something new." He wants this woman to experience something new, something completely different from her old sin.

And he wants us to experience something new as well. At the beginning of the homily I mentioned that we've confronted our own sin and weakness this Lent, and I use those two words to point to two different realities that Jesus wants to make new. Sin refers to the things I do wrong that keep me from God, but not all of our difficulties in the Christian life are limited to just sin. Many of us deal with weaknesses, you could also call them imperfections, that aren't sinful but they still get in the way. Things like depression and anxiety, while very real problems, are not sinful. And yet they can keep us from God. Even these things that are not sins, Jesus wants to take them and make something new out of them. He doesn't want to just leave you in your sin or your brokenness. No, he wants to take all this mess and do something new with it.

And what he wants to do with it is pattern it after his own life. That's what he did with St. Paul. Paul had great zeal for God's law, but it was misdirected in his zeal so that his zeal, his enthusiasm was actually leading him away from God, so God basically said to Paul, "See, I am doing something new here." And now, Paul's life has been so transformed that he can consider the loss of his old life as so much rubbish. Rubbish is a very clean euphemism for dung. That's what his old life is in comparison with what new things God has done. Jesus patterned Paul's life on himself. Paul is sharing in Christ's suffering by being conformed to his death, if somehow he may attain the resurrection from the dead. Everything we suffer in our own lives is a share in Christ's suffering, and every victory in our life is a share in Christ's resurrection. Through the regular rise and fall of our own lives, we share in the death and resurrection of Christ. This is the new thing that Jesus has done in the world. He has conformed our lives to be like his, because he lived a life like ours.

So next week is Palm Sunday, and then we rapidly approach the pinnacle event of human history, the death and resurrection of God. Conform your life to his. See in every suffering of yours a share in his death, and in every victory of yours a share in his resurrection. By patterning your life after Jesus's, he will make something new spring forth.

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