“…forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13:14)
She stood there. Waiting for judgment. Waiting for death. She never could have expected that she would walk away from what was supposed to be her execution to a new life overflowing with the mercy of God. What possessed these men to bring that woman caught in adultery to Jesus? Why were they so bloodthirsty? They really didn’t care about her or what she had done. All they wanted to do was trap the Lord. But what if it had been one of us? How many of us have often felt like this woman when we have sinned? Alone, desperate, abandoned, judged, condemned. I count myself in this as well. Why is it that we don’t trust in the mercy of God as much as we should? These men come to distort the law before the very Author of the law. The law was not given to us to condemn, but to bring us closer to God. How are their actions bringing this woman any closer to God? This is a corruption of the law, which is why Jesus disarms them when he says: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” We are not without sin. We cannot condemn. This is the point that Jesus makes to the woman when they are alone.
This also happens in the confessional. It is just Jesus and us. Yes, the priest is acting in the person of Christ, but he is not there to condemn. He is there to dispense Divine Mercy. He is there to unshackle us from the chains and burden of sin and to tell us the same words that Jesus tells the woman at the end of the gospel: “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” We go from desperation to salvation. From lost to found. From death to life. Much like the prodigal son in last week’s gospel. This woman, who was probably certain she was going to die, was given new life by Jesus. Not just any life. A life filled with God’s mercy. A life filled with infinite possibilities for peace and happiness with God walking by her side. Everything else in her life now seemed trivial because she was born again that day.
The words of St. Paul in the second reading could very well be the words of this woman when the apostle says that he considers everything a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Jesus. St. Paul had serious sin as well. He had the blood of martyrs on his hands, which made his story of forgiveness and redemption and encounter with the Lord just as extraordinary as the one we hear about in today’s gospel. Paul considers everything else rubbish because Jesus has forgiven him, because Jesus gave him new life, new purpose. Paul goes from persecuting Christians to being persecuted himself, but this does not concern him because Christ is at his side. The Lord rescued him as he rescued the woman. There is a verse that we repeat in the Liturgy of Hours during the Lenten season that comes to mind: “God himself will set me free from the hunter’s snare. From those who would trap me with lying words…and from the hunter’s snare.” From whomever or whatever is oppressing us, God will come to our rescue to grant us forgiveness and new life.
Yet something is always holding us back. We don’t want to take the next step that for many is making a good confession this Lent. What is it that prevents us from feeling liberating like this woman? Towards the end of the second reading, Paul writes: “…forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” Still, the sins of our past, the sins we have confessed still shackle us, still hold us back. Do we not realize that when we go to confession it is as if we write down our sins on a paper that God shreds into pieces? If God forgives and forget, why can’t we? The hopefully soon to be saint, Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, preached during the Lenten Retreat to St. John Paul II and the Roman Curia some 16 years ago that “Jesus has a terrible memory.” And aren’t we better for it? Yet we still hold on to those sins like someone desperate to paste together all those pieces of paper that were our sins that the Lord has ripped up and thrown to the wind. We need to “forget what lies behind.” Salvation is not found there. Paul is correct in telling us that we must “strain forward to what lies ahead” with our ultimate goal being a life totally dedicated to service to Jesus with everything else counting as a loss. St. Paul and this woman found a new life in Christ, but first they had to accept the forgiveness that was being offered to them. We must let go of past hurts. If Jesus forgets our sins, why can’t we?