Isaiah chapter 43, verses 16 to 21
Philippians chapter 3, verses 8 to 14
John chapter 8, verses 1 to 11
This reflection is based upon the Scripture readings for the 5th. Sunday of Lent in cycle "C". Isaiah Chapter 43, verses 16 to 21. Philippians Chapter 3, verses 8 to 14 and the Gospel according to John Chapter 8, verses1 to 11. I suggest that you read Isaiah now.
What you have just read is a segment of what is known as the Hymn of Salvation. Putting it into its historical context, we hear Isaiah addressing a people in exile. Jerusalem, as had been prophesied, was in ruins and the People of God were languishing in Babylon. These poor people who had suffered the rigors of imprisonment in Egypt and finally the doubts and anxieties of the exodus from Egypt into Palestine, were now being encouraged toward a new exodus, toward another phase of their salvation.
Notice that although Isaiah recalls the past as a source of hope and of direction, he is really much more concerned with the present and with the future. "See I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light. Can you not see it? Yes, I am making a road in the wilderness, paths in the wilds."
If you were to take a moment now to read the text from Philippians, you would see that this attitude is reflected by Paul. He insists that communion with Christ takes precedence over the Law of Moses; and yet, on many occasions, he goes out of his way to pay tribute to his Jewish background and traditions. Like Isaiah, Paul is concentrating on the present and the future. For him, the past is past and its value lies in that without it there would be no continuity of human growth and development. In other words, its valuable lessons are all orientated to the challenges at hand and to come.
This would be a good time to read the first eleven verses of the eighth chapter of John's Gospel. Jesus of Nazareth knew and understood the religious and political traditions of His people. Even as an adolescent He had astounded some of the country's most learned scholars by His grasp of The Law. In the Gospel passage, which you have just read, we meet Jesus just as the Feast of Tabernacles had drawn to a close. During the past few days He had become a familiar sight in Jerusalem, particularly in and about the temple. He would have been easy to spot as men and women of every description crowded around Him while the traditional teachers of Israel complained about this impudent peasant who dared to preach in the holy city. They determined, at whatever cost, to discredit Him.
As He spoke of a pilgrimage, which would lead to an eternal promised land, Jesus knew that He was disturbing many people because, in spite of the Roman occupation, they were content. They were well fed and had enough independence to maintain a sense of nationhood. The days of captivity and exile were over; they were at home and at peace. The Roman Legions afforded them protection from other enemies and, in general, except for those hated taxes, they were left to their own devices.
In fact, Jesus was not threatening the political status quo. The kingdom of which He spoke was not of this world. The redemption of which He spoke was not from the tyranny of Rome but from that of their own pride and selfishness. Many of the Scribes and Pharisees knew this but this frightened them even more than political revolution. Many of them experienced that chilling fear known only to the hypocrite who senses that he is about to be unmasked.
Jesus loved His people and their sacred traditions. He respected and quoted the Law of Moses, but He berated these teachers for the spiritual cage, which they had built for themselves. He saw their whole attitude as being inimical to mankind's great pilgrimage to the Father.
He winced as He saw them drag the wretched, tear-stained woman up the road toward Him. He tried to calm her with His eyes as they bombarded Him with their triumphant charges. "An adulteress...we caught her!" (I suspect that the "gentleman" in question had, by this time, become one of them and was by no means the least vocal.)
Jesus felt a little sick as He faced the fact that for the chosen of His Father, religion had come to this. Their question concerning an interpretation of the Law was designed to trick Him and was quickly and effectively dealt with. For the moment He simply wanted them out of His sight. All of His attention was focused on the cringing, weeping, terrified figure. He looked at her and unlike so many of His ministers then and now, He loved her. He saw her past but He concentrated on her present and, most of all, on her future.
As to the Jewish nation of old; as to the early Pauline Christian community yet to be born; as to all of us...the voice of God was heard to say: "Go forward and learn from the past but do not live in it. Go forward in a spirit of confidence and hope. In my sight, there is none more precious than you."