April 10, 2019
Last Sunday was the Fifth Sunday of Lent. The Gospel came from John – the story of the woman caught in adultery. I was asked to re-post a homily I gave on this gospel back in 2016. Happy to do so – here it is!
If you have been in a baby products store lately, you have probably noticed that there are a number of sound machines available on the market. These are electronic devices that reproduce sounds that are comforting to babies, allowing them to fall asleep more easily. With the push of a button, parents can select sounds such as Ocean, Summer Night, Rain Forest, or Waterfall.
I can relate. For many years I slept with an oscillating fan near the bed. I am not sure why, but I found the whirring of the small motor comforting. Comfort has a sound.
When our kids were going through their teenage years, Carol and I laid in bed feigning sleep until we knew all of them were home, safe and sound. Curfew was approaching, or perhaps curfew had come and gone, and our anxiety elevated. Then there was a sound – the sound of a key sliding into the lock on the front door, and relief washed over us. Relief has a sound.
My daughter, Laura, once shared with me that she liked the fact that she was short in stature because when she hugged me, her ear was right over my heart. She said my heartbeat seemed to be saying, “I love Laura…I love Laura…I love Laura.” Despite some concerns that I might have an irregular heartbeat, I was pleased that Laura connected the sound of my heart to my love for her. Love has a sound.
In today’s Gospel, we discover that mercy has a sound.
I used the following words from John to help me picture the woman who had been brought to Jesus: “Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.”
Although John does not provide us with the details of the agony the woman was experiencing, this is what I saw in my mind as I read the Gospel story:
She was forced, pushed and shoved, into the middle of a circle of bloodthirsty men who were eager to stand in judgment. They relished the thought of delivering the punishment the woman was due. Can you even imagine the shame and humiliation she must have felt? Or the level of fear she was experiencing? The sheer gravity of what she had done and the fate awaiting her had to have been overwhelming.
Anticipating the wrath of those who condemned her, she dropped down to her knees. She leaned forward, with her head nearly touching the ground. She covered her head with her arms, in what would have been a futile attempt to ward off the stones. Each second seemed like an eternity as she waited for the first stone to be thrown.
The woman must have been terrified. After all, we heard in the Gospel, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.”
This was not up for debate. She was going to die. It was the law.
She waited as the outcry from the Pharisees continued. Then Jesus spoke and it grew quiet. She braced herself for the certain onslaught of stones. However, it never came.
There was absolute silence. Then, she heard it – the sound of a single stone hitting the ground. Then she heard another and another. Stone after stone hit the ground, not thrown, but dropped. Mercy has a sound.
With the sound of each stone hitting the ground, she experienced a greater sense of self-worth. Shame was replaced with repentance.
She uncovered her head cautiously, and rose up from the ground. Looking around, she saw the men who had brought her to Jesus walking away. She had not been condemned and punished. Instead, she was shown mercy. Through the power of Jesus, she was forgiven. In the Gospel, we heard: Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
She no longer felt afraid, but reborn. Facing certain death, she was given new life. Not condemned by Jesus, but loved. That is the power of mercy and forgiveness.
Are you the woman in the story? Are you ashamed of some of the things you have done, afraid to face God and incur His wrath and punishment?
Or maybe you feel like you deserve to be punished. You deserve to have stones hurled at you and are unworthy of mercy and forgiveness.
Are you one of the Pharisees in the story? Do you stand in judgment of others, eager to point out their faults and add to their punishment? Do you refuse to offer compassion and forgiveness to one who has hurt you? After all, what’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong. Rules are rules and it’s your job to make sure the guilty party suffers.
If that is the case, perhaps you should look down at the ground and see what Jesus is writing in the dirt.
The adulteress woman was not the only person to hear the sound of mercy in today’s Gospel. With the help of Jesus, each Pharisee was able to see his own sins in the sins of the condemned woman. He was able to hear the sound of his individual stone hitting the ground. That sound represented a “letting go” of judgment.
Whether we experience mercy or offer mercy, we are restored to new life. We leave the past in the past and move forward.
Our other readings today deliver that same Lenten message.
In today’s first reading from Isaiah: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!”
And from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “…forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit…”
Mercy has a sound. When you seek reconciliation or pray for forgiveness, close your eyes and listen carefully. You will hear the sound of the stones of condemnation hitting the ground one by one. Take in the sound and embrace the new life it offers.
You can also deliver the sound of mercy, opting not to cast the stone at those who have offended you, but rather, dropping it at your feet. Give others the opportunity to experience the new life offered by your mercy, and in so doing, be renewed yourself.
Mercy has a powerful impact on those shown mercy, as well as on the merciful. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.