Lent 5

John 8: 1-11

On Friday of this coming week we shall celebrate a Requiem Mass in St Mary’s church as we say goodbye to our dear friend Michael O’Flaherty.

I have no doubt that the church will be full to overflowing and I also know that although it’s the fifth Friday in Lent, there will be many floral tributes.

No one will raise any objection or criticise the breaking of a Lenten tradition, and this reminds me of a report I read earlier about an Anglican churchwarden who didn’t like his parish priest.( Can you believe such a thing?!) Anglican Lenten Traditions are quite similar to ours and our hero was deeply shocked when he found out that the priest was planning a wedding during Lent.

“What!” he said “Flowers in church during Lent !”.

 And so he didn’t wait to discover the very sad circumstances behind the wedding. Instead, he made the most enormous fuss, and caused a scene which took weeks to calm down.

Now, I don’t know your position, but I believe that however precious our Lenten observances might be, they should never be so set in stone, that human need is always ignored. 

And the gospel story which we’ve just heard is a very telling comment by Jesus about religious observance and human need.

The church warden that I spoke about just now couldn’t see beyond his wish to keep up the Lent Traditions. Just as the Scribes and the Pharisees weren’t at all concerned about a woman whose life was in a mess. They considered her to be a worthless adulteress and made her a pawn in their game with Jesus.

In both cases, enthusiasm for Tradition came before respect for other people and a wish for their well- being and salvation.

Now, look at Jesus. Yes, of course he’s concerned about tradition and the Law of Moses; after all he quotes it often enough. He very cleverly upheld it in the story which we’ve just heard, but in such a way that those who were so intent on punishing a lawbreaker were forced to look at their own hypocrisy first. But he’s much more concerned that all people, who are equally precious in God’s eyes, should be made aware of God’s mercy, forgiveness and salvation.

“Woman” he said, after her accusers had left, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one , sir” she replied.

“Neither do I condemn you” said Jesus. “Go away and sin no more”

Can you imagine the effect of this acceptance and forgiveness on her? Can you doubt that she would respond to God’s love flowing to her through Jesus in a way which would make any other religious tradition pale into insignificance?    

So whatever you’ve chosen to observe during Lent, you should be clear that it should never be a way of appearing “holier than thou”, or indeed, a way of manipulating someone else.

No; It should always be seen against its effect on other people.

Hopefully, we’ve been moving through Lent with serious joy, trying to grow closer to God. And so, yes, it’s important to look inward. But we must also always look outwards towards the well- being and salvation of those with whom we have to do.

And we do well to remember that no matter how careful our Lenten Observance is, we are all, in one way or another, in the position of the woman in this beautiful Gospel story.

So as we hear God’s forgiveness declared today; how do we react?  Do we perhaps expect it, and take it for granted? Or is it to us, as to this woman, the word of life, and a reprieve from a death sentence?  Amen.