Father Donald Senior, CP

God’s mercy is always available to us

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

March 13: Fifth Sunday of Lent
Is 43:16-21; Phil 3:8-14; Jn 8:1-11

A couple of years ago I came upon a news report that struck me deeply. Chet Szuber, a man in Detroit who had severe heart failure and was near the point of death, had received his daughter Patti’s heart after she was tragically killed in an automobile accident. When he received news of her death, he was overcome with grief and could not even consider the proposal of his doctor and wife that he receive his daughter’s heart as his own.

But as he pondered it, he realized that this was precisely what his daughter would have wanted and he accepted. As he said, “My life will never be the same … she has given me my life and I will think of her every moment for as long as I live.”

That extraordinary story came back to me as I reflected on the readings for this Fifth Sunday of Lent, the last one before Holy Week begins. The Gospel is the exquisite story from John of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. When some of the religious leaders want to stone her for her sin, Jesus intercedes for her and saves her life. (Where, we might ask, was their indignation for the man who also transgressed?)

They attempt to put Jesus on the spot: “Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” Jesus answers with a silence that speaks louder than words, writing on the ground with his finger and ignoring their trap. Then he challenges them: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Ashamed, they slip away one by one. And with infinite tenderness and sensitivity, Jesus gives new life to the woman they wanted to destroy.

Our Lenten season is rapidly drawing to a close but we still have time to take the message of this Scripture to heart. I wonder how this woman felt after her encounter with Jesus? Immense relief. Overwhelming gratitude. A chance for a new life.

Although the circumstances are very different, the experience of Chet Szuber and this anonymous woman in the Gospel are similar. Both found new life in an unexpected way. That is also a fundamental message of the Scripture readings this Sunday.

In the first reading from Isaiah, God declares to his people: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” God’s great mercy can give us new life.

Paul speaks this way, too, in second reading taken from his letter to the Philippians: “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.” As Paul affirmed more than once in his writings, because of God’s forgiving mercy and unquenchable love for us, we are a “new creation.”

No matter what our past might contain, whether some dramatic encounter with physical — or spiritual — death or the ordinary undertow of our sins and failings, God’s mercy is always available to us. Jesus’ tender forgiveness of the woman in the Gospel account for today makes that clear. We, too, can hear his words to her directed now to us: “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”


  • scripture