St. Giles’ Cathedral
Sunday March 29 2020
Fifth Sunday in Lent
1 While Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.[a] 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11 She said, ‘No one, sir.’[b] And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.
Reflection by Craig Meek, Assistant Minister of St. Giles’
Our Gospel text this week presents us with a number of interesting and unanswerable questions – questions that help foster a palpable tension and awkwardness in a scene fraught with ambiguity and discomfort. What did Jesus write on the ground with his finger? Did he draw a picture? – Did he write words? And what came over the religious leaders that they suddenly began to peel away from the scene, one by one? Was is the awkwardness of the moment – Was it some kind of guilt or culpability in the woman’s alleged sin? Did they really expect Jesus to condemn her to death according to the law of Moses rather than forgive her sin according to the law of mercy?
The scene is filled with a sense of urgency and haste; that is, until Jesus slows everything down by kneeling to the ground and playing in the dirt with his finger. As he does, the religious leaders keep badgering him with questions – they want answers; they want condemnation; they want to know that their laws about righteousness demarcate the sheep from the goats – the wheat from the chaff. But Jesus refuses to give them what they want: ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her’, he says.
Bending back down to play in the dirt a little more, the scene suddenly grows silent – even eerie. One by one, the crowd begins to disperse until Jesus is left kneeling before the woman by himself. There is no condemnation for her; only forgiveness and mercy – but it comes at a cost: ‘Go on your way and do not sin again’, he says; for the Gospel never leaves us as it found us but always bids our turning about and walking by faith in the newness of life.
The season of Lent is a time during which we’re invited again to return to the life God envisions for us in Christ Jesus. That is, it’s a time during which we reflect upon the ways that forgiveness and mercy shape who we are and direct what we will be. As we do, perhaps today we might take a few moments to be thankful for the God whose love forgives rather than condemns, and in doing so, embrace evermore tightly the newness of life that grace so readily provides.
Holy and Almighty God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Forgive our foolishness; forgive our indifference; forgive of lack our faith, and bid us to embrace those rhythms of mercy that direct our lives towards all that is good and life-giving. In a period of change and interruption, slow us down and refocus our hearts upon those things which matter most.
Hear our prayers for doctors and civil servants across the world and anyone battling on the front lines against sickness and disease for the life and health of the world. Lord God, comfort those who have lost loved ones; protect and provide for the disadvantaged and underprivileged; and bring peace to any and all who are distressed.
May your peace reign in our hearts, Lord, and – eventually – in our world as well. Amen.
This week’s hymn: When I survey the wondrous cross Rockingham
Friends, may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift his countenance upon you and those whom you love this day and give you peace. Amen.
Organ Voluntary César Franck Pièce Héroïque