Nineteenth in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Fifth Sunday of Lent (Passion Sunday)
Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11
In the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we meet the hero’s father Dr. Henry Jones, an aging professor of archaeology obsessed with the legends surrounding the Holy Grail, to the point of keeping an intricate diary of all his many discoveries over his life and career. It is an obsession that strained his family life, costing him the life of his wife and a relationship with his son. His words to Indy at one point in the film – “The only thing that matters is the Grail” – apply just as much to his own life as they do to the adventure he finds himself embroiled in. By the end of the film he has found himself face-to-face with the Grail, even holding it in his hands. In the upheaval that results, the Grail falls into a pit and Indy risks his life to get it back for his father, hanging from the ledge as his father holds on to him. Each time Indy reaches out for the cup, his father’s grip loosens and he’s increasingly in danger of losing them both. The scene ends with Henry saying to his son in a voice calmer and clearer than he has yet used in the story, “Indiana: let it go.” Indy looks up, reaches up with his other hand, and lets himself be pulled from danger.
Today begins the last part of the Lenten season, traditionally known as Passiontide. During these last days we, like Saint Paul in the Second Reading, “continue [our] pursuit towards the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling,” manifested in the redemptive events of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection. We pursue this goal most effectively, he advises, by “forgetting what lies behind” and “straining forward to what lies ahead.” For example: in our First Reading, the Lord speaks through His prophet, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” We have spent weeks meditating upon the marvelous events of the covenant with Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt, the arrival in the Promised Land – the events that established Israel’s relationship with God as His own particular people. Now these words from the Book of Isaiah tell the Israelites, who at this time in history are in exile in Babylon, to at once recognize those events and then move beyond them. He is still the God “who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters,” but such roads are not meant to be traveled backwards, nor are they meant to be rest stations. We must keep going forward if we are to reach the goal.
Going forward is also what Jesus tells the sinful woman at the end of today’s Gospel reading. Just like last week we have another well-known story: this time, the woman caught in adultery about whom Jesus says “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” As important as the message is concerning how, one by one, her accusers dropped their stones and walked away – for none of us is without sin – just as important is the message at the end of the story. In letting the woman go free of condemnation, He says to her, “[F]rom now on, do not sin any more.” Letting go of past events doesn’t actually happen, no matter what we may tell ourselves or others, if we allow ourselves to be trapped in those events mentally, emotionally, spiritually. The freedom Jesus offers through this account is not the freedom to deviate from God’s wishes with impunity, as if the Redemption is just some cosmic “Get out of Hell Free” card, but to seize the newness of the present moment to live as one who walks straight along the path towards God.
Of course, these things are easier said than done. The decision to change our lives does indeed begin with a single step, but there are hundreds, thousands of steps that come after that as we keep walking the path. And sometimes we will stumble, we will trip, we will fall. But these are all signs of progress, and even a stumble will cause you to go farther than standing still or turning back. Even Saint Paul, in his words of encouragement to the Church at Philippi, says of himself, “It is not that I…have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in the hope that I may possess it.” We must be people that get up as many times as we fall. Or, if you will, we must be like someone being pulled out of a pit; unless we stop reaching out in other directions and pull ourselves up too, we risk sliding down even in the midst of receiving help.
“I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” Paul wrote to the Philippians. This statement was the reason he could be so confident in his pursuit of the goal, and how he could encourage others to do the same. But such a statement doesn’t just apply to the wealth and treasures that the world has to offer, all of which we know will pass away, but also to those wounds, those injuries, those hurts we hold in our hearts that keep us from moving forward. These things too we must lose; we must be ministers of reconciliation even to ourselves, and meet our Father halfway. Acknowledging our faults and trusting in God’s forgiving mercy – “Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?” – means letting those faults go and moving forward. Why should we hold so miserably fast to what God Himself so lovingly forgets?
God is good. Let the rest go, and keep pursuing the goal.