POPE FRANCIS ON THE 5TH SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR C.
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
Granaries, Floriana (Malta)
5th Sunday of Lent Year C, 3 April 2022
“Early in the morning Jesus came again to the temple; all the people came to him” (Jn 8:2). These words introduce the story of the woman caught in adultery. The background is serene: it is morning in the holy place, in the heart of Jerusalem. At the centre is the people of God, who are looking for Jesus, the Master, in the courtyard of the temple: they want to listen to him, because his words are insightful and heartwarming. There is nothing abstract in his teaching; it touches, frees, transforms and renews real life. Here we see the “intuition” of the people of God; they are not satisfied with the temple built of stones, but flock around the person of Jesus. In this passage, we can see the believers of every age, the holy people of God. Here in Malta, that people is numerous and lively, faithful in seeking the Lord through a concrete, lived faith. For this, I thank all of you.
In the presence of those people, Jesus takes his time: the Gospel tells us that, “he sat down and taught them” (v. 2). Yet, there are empty seats in that school of Jesus. Absent are the woman and her accusers. Unlike the others, they did not go to the Master. They all have their reasons: the scribes and the Pharisees think that they already know everything and do not need the teaching of Jesus; the woman, on the other hand, is lost and confused, someone who went astray looking for happiness in the wrong places. They were absent for different reasons, and the story will end differently for each of them. Let us reflect on these “absentees”.
First of all, let us consider the accusers of the woman. In them, we see a reflection of all those who pride themselves on being righteous, observers of God’s law, decent and respectable people. They disregard their own faults, yet they are very concerned about those of others. They go to Jesus: not with open hearts to hear his words, but “to test him and to have some charge to bring against him” (v. 6). This reveals the inner thoughts of these cultivated and religious people, who know the Scriptures and visit the temple, yet subordinate this to their personal interests and do not resist the evil thoughts brewing in their hearts. In the eyes of the people, they appear to be experts in things of God, yet they fail to recognize Jesus; indeed, they view him as an enemy to be eliminated. To achieve this, they set before him someone they scornfully refer to as “this woman”, treating her as a thing, and publicly denouncing her adultery. They call for the woman to be stoned, and pour out on her all their hostility to the compassion shown by Jesus. And they do so under the cloak of their reputation as devout and religious men.
Brothers and sisters, these Gospel personages remind us that at any time our individual and communal religiosity can conceal the worm of hypocrisy and the urge to point the finger at others. We can always run the risk of failing to understand Jesus, of having his name on our lips but denying him by the way that we live. Even as we raise banners displaying the cross. How, then, can we prove whether not we are true disciples of the Master? We do so by the way we regard our neighbour and the way we regard ourselves. This is an important point in the definition of who we are.
By the way we regard our neighbour: whether we do this with a look of mercy, as Jesus shows us today, or with a look of judgement, even contempt, like the accusers of the Gospel, who present themselves as God’s defenders but who fail to realize that they are trampling on their sisters and brothers. Those who believe they are upholding the faith by pointing their finger at others may have a certain “religiosity”, but they have not embraced the spirit of the Gospel, for they disregard mercy, which is the heart of God.
To understand whether we are true disciples of the Master or not, we need to think about how we view ourselves. The accusers of the woman were convinced that they had nothing to learn. Their outward appearance was impeccable, yet they lacked the truth of the heart. They represent those believers who in every age make faith part of their façade; they present an impressive and solemn exterior, yet they lack interior poverty, the greatest treasure of the human heart. For Jesus, what really counts is openness and docility on the part of those who do not consider themselves secure, but recognize their need for salvation. It is good for us then, whenever we pray, but also whenever we participate in lovely religious services, to ask ourselves if we are truly attuned to the Lord. We can ask him straightaway, “Jesus, here I am with you, but what is it that you want from me? What is in my heart, in my life, that you want me to change? How do you want me to regard others?” Praying like that will do us good, because the Master is not content with appearances; he seeks the truth of the heart. Once we open our hearts to him in truth, he can work wonders in us.
We see this in the woman caught in adultery. Her situation seemed hopeless, but then a new and unexpected horizon opened up before her. She was insulted and awaiting merciless judgment and severe punishment. Yet to her amazement, she finds herself acquitted by God, who points her to a future she did not at all anticipate: “Has no one condemned you?” – Jesus says to her – “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (vv. 10.11). What a difference there is between the Master and the woman’s accusers! They cited the Scriptures to condemn her; Jesus, the very Word of God, completely rehabilitates the woman, restoring her hope. From this story, we learn that any judgment that is not inspired and moved by charity only serves to make things worse for those who receive it. God, on the other hand, always leaves room for second chance; he can always find paths that lead to liberation and salvation.
Forgiveness changed that woman’s life. Mercy and misery embraced. Mercy and misery met there, and the woman’s life changed. We can even speculate whether, after being forgiven by Jesus, she was able in turn to forgive others. Perhaps she even came to see her accusers no longer as harsh and wicked men, but as the means that led to her encounter with Jesus. The Lord also wants us, his disciples, his Church, likewise forgiven by him, to become tireless witnesses of reconciliation. Witnesses of a God for whom the word “irredeemable” does not exist, a God who always forgives. God always forgives. We are the ones who get tired of asking for forgiveness. Our God is a God who never stops believing in us and always gives us a chance to start anew. There is no sin or failure that we can bring before him that cannot become the opportunity for starting to live a new and different life under the banner of mercy. There is no sin that cannot be treated in this manner. God forgives everything. He forgives every sin.
This is the Lord Jesus. We truly know him when we experience his forgiveness, and when, like the woman in the Gospel, we discover that God comes to us through our inner woundedness. That is indeed where the Lord loves to make himself known, for he came not for the healthy but for the sick (cf. Mt 9:12). Today, that woman, who found mercy amid her misery and who went away healed by Jesus’ forgiveness, invites us, as Church, to return to the school of the Gospel, to learn from the God of hope who never ceases to surprise us. If we imitate him, we will not be inclined to focus on condemning sins, but on setting out with love in search of sinners. We will be content with those already present, but will go out in search of those absent. We will not go back to pointing fingers, but will start listening. We will not discard the despised, but view as first those whom others consider least. Brothers and sisters, this is what Jesus teaches us today by his example. Let us allow him to amaze us. Let us joyfully welcome the good news he brings.
Saint Peter’s Square
Sunday, 7 April 2019
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, the liturgy presents us the episode of the adulterous woman (cf. Jn 8:1-11). In it, there are two contrasting attitudes: that of the scribes and the Pharisees on the one hand, and that of Jesus on the other. The former want to condemn the woman because they feel they are the guardians of the Law and of its faithful implementation. Jesus, on the other hand, wants to save her because he personifies God’s mercy which redeems by forgiving and renews by reconciling.
Let us thus look at the event. While Jesus is teaching in the Temple, the scribes and the Pharisees bring him a woman who has been caught in adultery. They place her in the middle and ask Jesus if they should stone her as the Law of Moses prescribes. The Evangelist explains that they asked the question in order “to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him” (v. 6). One might think that this was their purpose: behold the iniquity of these people — a ‘no’ to the stoning would have been a pretext to accuse Jesus of disobeying the Law; a ‘yes’ instead, to report him to the Roman Authority which had reserved such sentences to itself and did not permit lynching by the people. And Jesus must respond.
Jesus’ interrogators are confined to narrow legalism and want to oblige the Son of God to conform to their perspective of judgment and condemnation. However, he did not come into the world to judge and condemn, but rather to save and offer people a new life. And how does Jesus react to this test? First of all, he remains silent for some time and then he bends down to write on the ground with his finger, almost as if to remind them that the only Legislator and Judge is God who had inscribed the Law on stone. And then he says: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). In this way, Jesus appeals to the conscience of those men: they felt they were the ‘champions of justice’, but he reminds them of their own condition as sinners, due to which they cannot claim the right to life or death over one of their fellow human beings. At that point, one after the other, beginning with the eldest — that is, those who were more fully aware of their own failings — they all went away, and desisted from stoning the woman. This episode also invites each of us to be aware that we are sinners, and to let fall from our hands the stones of denigration, of condemnation, of gossip, which at times we would like to cast at others. When we speak ill of others, we are throwing stones, we are like these people.
And in the end only Jesus and the woman are left there in the middle: “misery with mercy”, as Saint Augustine says (In Joh 33:5). Jesus is the only one without fault, the only one who could throw a stone at her, but he does not do so, because God “does not want the death of the wicked but that the wicked convert and live” (cf. Ez 33:11). And Jesus sends the woman on her way with these wonderful words: “Go and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). And thus Jesus opens a new path to her, created by mercy, a path that requires her commitment not to sin again. It is an invitation that applies to each one of us. When Jesus forgives us, he always opens a new path on which to go forward. In this Lenten Season, we are called to recognize ourselves as sinners and to ask God for forgiveness. And, in its turn, while forgiveness reconciles us and gives us peace, it lets us start again, renewed. Every true conversion is oriented toward a new future, a new life, a beautiful life, a life free from sin, a generous life. Let us not be afraid to ask Jesus for forgiveness because he opens the door to this new life for us. May the Virgin Mary help us to bear witness to all of the merciful love of God, who through Jesus, forgives us and renders our lives new, by always offering us new possibilities.
Saint Peter’s Square
Fifth Sunday of Lent, 13 March 2016
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
The Gospel of this Fifth Sunday of Lent (cf. Jn 8:1-11) is so beautiful, I really enjoy reading and rereading it. It presents the episode of the adulterous woman, highlighting the theme of the mercy of God, who never wants the sinner to die, but that the sinner convert and live. The scene unfolds on the Temple grounds. Imagine that there on the parvis [of St Peter’s Basilica], Jesus is teaching the people, when several scribes and Pharisees arrive, dragging before him a woman caught in adultery. That woman is thus placed between Jesus and the crowd (cf. v. 3), between the mercy of the Son of God and the violence and anger of her accusers. In fact, they did not come to the Teacher to ask his opinion — they were bad people — but to ensnare him. Indeed, were Jesus to follow the stringent law, approving that the woman be stoned, he would lose his reputation of meekness and goodness which so fascinated the people; however, were he to be merciful, he would be flouting the law, which he himself said he did not wish to abolish but fulfil (cf. Mt 5:17). This is the situation Jesus is placed in.
This wicked intention was hidden behind the question that they asked Jesus: “What do you say about her?” (Jn 8:5). Jesus did not respond; he kept silent and made a mysterious gesture: he “bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground” (v. 7). Perhaps he was drawing, some said that he wrote down the sins of the Pharisees… however, he was writing, as if he were elsewhere. In this way he helped everyone to calm down, not to act on the wave of impulsiveness, and to seek the justice of God. But those wicked men persisted and waited for him to answer. They seemed to thirst for blood. Then Jesus looked up and said: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). This response confounded the accusers, disarming all of them in the true sense of the word: they all lay down their “weapons”, that is, the stones ready to be thrown, both the visible ones against the woman and those concealed against Jesus. While the Lord continued to write on the ground, to draw, I don’t know…. The accusers went away, one after the other, heads down, beginning with the eldest, most aware of not being without sin. How much good it does us to be aware that we too are sinners! When we speak ill of others — something we know well — how much good it will do us to have the courage to drop down the stones we have to throw at others, and to think a little about our own sins!
Only the woman and Jesus remained: misery and mercy. How often does this happen to us when we stop before the confessional, with shame, to show our misery and ask for forgiveness! “Woman, where are they?” (v. 10), Jesus said to her. This question is enough, and his merciful gaze, full of love, in order to let that person feel — perhaps for the first time — that she has dignity, that she is not her sin, she has personal dignity; that she can change her life, she can emerge from her slavery and walk on a new path.
Dear brothers and sisters, that woman represents all of us. We are sinners, meaning adulterers before God, betrayers of his fidelity. Her experience represents God’s will for each of us: not our condemnation but our salvation through Jesus. He is the grace which saves from sin and from death. On the ground, in the dust of which every human being is made (Gen 2:7), he wrote God’s sentence: “I want not that you die but that you live”. God does not nail us to our sin, he does not identify us by the evil we have committed. We have a name, and God does not identify this name with the sin we have committed. He wants to free us, and wants that we too want it together with him. He wants us to be free to convert from evil to good, and this is possible — it is possible! — with his grace.
May the Virgin Mary help us to entrust ourselves completely to God’s mercy, in order to become new creatures
Saint Peter’s Square
Sunday, 17 March 2013
Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
On this Fifth Sunday of Lent, the Gospel presents to us the episode of the adulterous woman (cf. Jn 8:1-11), whom Jesus saves from being condemned to death. Jesus’ attitude is striking: we do not hear words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversion. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (v. 11). Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God’s face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience he has with each one of us? That is his mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, he understands us, he waits for us, he does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to him with a contrite heart. “Great is God’s mercy”, says the Psalm.
In the past few days I have been reading a book by a Cardinal — Cardinal Kasper, a clever theologian, a good theologian — on mercy. And that book did me a lot of good, but do not think I am promoting my cardinals’ books! Not at all! Yet it has done me so much good, so much good… Cardinal Kasper said that feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient…. Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God’s love would make them white as snow. This mercy is beautiful! I remember, when I had only just become a bishop in the year 1992, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima had just arrived in Buenos Aires and a big Mass was celebrated for the sick. I went to hear confessions at that Mass. And almost at the end of the Mass I stood up, because I had to go and administer a First Confirmation. And an elderly woman approached me, humble, very humble, and over eighty years old. I looked at her, and I said, “Grandmother” — because in our country that is how we address the elderly — do you want to make your confession?”. “Yes”, she said to me. “But if you have not sinned…”. And she said to me: “We all have sins…”. “But perhaps the Lord does not forgive them”. “The Lord forgives all things”, she said to me with conviction. “But how do you know, Madam?”. “If the Lord did not forgive everything, the world would not exist”. I felt an urge to ask her: “Tell me, Madam, did you study at the Gregorian [University]?”, because that is the wisdom which the Holy Spirit gives: inner wisdom focused on God’s mercy. Let us not forget this word: God never ever tires of forgiving us! “Well, Father what is the problem?”. Well, the problem is that we ourselves tire, we do not want to ask, we grow weary of asking for forgiveness. He never tires of forgiving, but at times we get tired of asking for forgiveness.
Let us never tire, let us never tire! He is the loving Father who always pardons, who has that heart of mercy for us all. And let us too learn to be merciful to everyone. Let us invoke the intercession of Our Lady who held in her arms the Mercy of God made man.
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