Fifth Sunday in Lent : Gospel– Jn 8:1-11

" Sinners are potential Saints "

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 21 March 2010

In today’s Gospel, we hear of how the Scribes and the Pharisees who wanted to stone the adulteress to death, were brought to a realisation that they too were sinners when Jesus said, “Let those who do not have sin cast the first stone.” In other words, Jesus was very simply pointing out to the Jews and to us today, that before we condemn others of their sinfulness, we must first look into our own hearts and ask ourselves, “Are we guilty of what we want to condemn in others?”

We are all created in God’s image and likeness which is Love. Deep within each of our hearts are our innate and natural desires to love one another. Thus, if we have a good and delicate conscience that mirrors God’s Love, we can get very troubled when we come face to face with sin and sinful ways of people like when we see someone abusing another person and treating him very unjustly.

But, if our conscience is somewhat distorted and dulled, then when we come face to face with sin and the sinful ways of others, as the Scribes and Pharisees coming face to face with an adulteress, then we would tend to react in very negative and self-righteous ways. We will tend to become very judgmental and also very condemnatory of the sinner.

If we react and behave in such condemnatory manner, in all probability, our consciences are the type that are distorted and dulled, instead of those that are good and delicate because such consciences while troubled will also be moved with compassion for the sinner.

One of Jesus’ challenges in today’s Gospel is for us to be more fully aware of the quality of the consciences that we each have. Thus, it is good that each of us ask ourselves personally, “Is my conscience the good and delicate type or is it the distorted and dulled type?” This is important because Jesus in today’s Gospel is cautioning us not to be judgmental of others. He asserts this in the Gospel of Matthew 7:1 He says, “Do not judge and you will not be judged because the judgments you give are the judgments you will get.” Jesus then continues in verses 2 and 3 by saying, “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own? Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we want to allow the truth of today’s Gospel to penetrate our hearts, then we must first begin with acknowledging that you and I, without any exception, are sinners.Unless, we admit that we are sinners, our hearts would never be very open to the graces of God and God’s Spirit will not be able to change our hearts, and convert us and draw us closer to Him.

There is a story of how David, a teenage son, one day plucking up his courage and telling his father, “Dad, I just want you to know that every time you lose your temper and shout at me, especially in front of my friends, I feel something inside me dies. It is just too painful. I am not sure how much longer I can take in all your shouting because I feel weaker and sadder each time you shout and scold me.”

David’s father was shocked by what he heard; he was lost for words. David then quietly left the room. An hour later, David’s father went to him and hugged him tightly, and with tears in his eyes, said, “My son, thank you for letting me know how my shouting had affected you. I am under a lot of pressure and going through a lot of pain and trials myself. I am sorry for shouting at you unnecessarily.” David in turn hugged his dad even tighter. As he did this, something inside him came to life again, and his dad felt the same too within him.

Every time we hurt someone through our thoughts, words and deed, we destroy something precious and human in the person. But, every time we love someone and show them that we care, we bring to life something very human in the person; we bring out the goodness, the truth, the authenticity and the love of the person; as David did to his father.

Like David’s father, none of us are perfect; we are all sinners and moreover, many of us are under much stress in life. Like David’s father, we will grow in our relationship with God and with others only if we are able first to admit and accept that we have sinned against God and others. Like David’s father, we need to feel sorrow, shame and regret for causing others pain. If we don’t then our conversion experiences will not be deep.

When someone has done us wrong or sinned like the adulteress, there is a tendency to react negatively, be critical and even condemn them. David could have cut himself off from his father and even condemned him for his hot temper, but he didn’t. He chose to respond to a painful situation in Christ-like ways. He chose to be constructive. He told his father how his shouting hurt him so much, without being judgmental about his father’s actions. Fortunately, David’s father too was open to recognising the harm and hurt that he is causing his son, and in his conversion and repentance,sort reconciliation with his son and confessed that he was going through a very painful and trying time. David hearing his father’s pain, in turn hugged his father even more tightly and opened his heart to love him more; in doing so, his pain and bitterness, turned to compassion and love for his father.

My sister and brothers in Christ, let us note that while Jesus would not simply brush aside a person’s sins and take them lightly, He would give us, like the adulteress, another chance to change our ways. That is why instead of condoning the stoning, Jesus reached out to the adulteress with compassion and said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

If we reflect on our past and present life, we will see how Jesus has forgiven us of our sins on countless occasions. Jesus will always find a reason to defer His judgment on us, and give us yet another chance to show Him that we can do better. Jesus is like saying to us, “Yes, even though you have sinned, I believe that as My Father has created you in His image and likeness, deep within you, your fundamental desires are to love more than to hate and sow division in people’s lives.

Jesus believes that each of us is potentially a saint in the making so to speak. If we read the lives of St Ignatius of Loyola, St Francis of Assisi, St Augustine of Hippo and many other saints, we will see a clear pattern of how these great saints were once sinners, and dare I say even greater sinners than many of us here.

However, the most significant value that all these saints have is that first, they are willing to admit and accept with great shame and sorrow that they have truly caused God and people much pain and suffering through their sinful ways. And, in their conversion, they feel a great need to change their lives for the better, and that they feel they truly need God, and His graces to lift them out of their sinful ways of living.

Like all the saints, like David’s father in our story, Our Lord does not expect us to be perfect. He knows and feels our pains, struggles and temptations in life; He knows and feels how our spousal and family relationships, our illnesses, our work demands are all challenging and testing our faith in so many ways in our daily living.

Most importantly, Our Lord knows and believes in each of us. He believes in you and me, that if we are truly open to His graces and His Holy Spirit’s guidance in our daily lives, and if we are willing to open our hearts to accept and repent for the sins we have committed and are committing . . . then one day, together with David’s father we too will grow in holiness and even become a saint one day.

Fr Philip Heng, S.J.

visitors since 23 March 2010

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