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THE WORD

Repentance for All to cast a stone at her according to the


laws governing adultery if any of them
is “without sin.” Whether the charge of
FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT (C), MARCH 13, 2016 adultery against this woman is real or
Readings: Is 43:16–21; Ps 126:1–6; Phil 3:8–14; Jn 8:1–11 trumped up, the accusation against her
simply hides their own motives and
“Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (Jn 8:11) sins. Refusing to repent for their own

T
wo stances toward our spir- has not been in vain” (1 Cor 15:9–10). sins, Jesus actually shows them mer-
itual health stand in the way Paul’s recognition of his personal cy by allowing them to walk away to
of repentance, and each of us sinfulness and his subsequent sense of consider their need for forgiveness. It
might take either of these stances at worthlessness are redeemed by God’s is not just the woman who is asked “not
various times. One is self-satisfaction, grace in Jesus Christ. Once Paul ex- to sin again,” whatever her sins might
which can saturate our sense of spiri- periences this grace, he recognizes be, but all of us. Jesus challenges all of
tual worth: “What do I need to repent the abundant forgiveness God us to reckon with our own sin before
of? My relationship with God is fine.” lavishes on those who re- that of others.
Conversely, worthlessness can enve- pent. Paul knows that Those who are over-
lope us: “God could never forgive me; the grace on offer to whelmed by their own
God does not want a person like me.” him, and to everyone, sinfulness often feel that
When we reject our need for per- is not due to human their sins make them un-
sonal repentance, we convince our- achievements; nor is fit to be called a disciple
selves that we are always in tune with the offer rescinded be- of Jesus. Those who refuse
God and only others need to change. cause of overwhelming to acknowledge their own
The apostle Paul persecuted Jesus’ sins. It is presented to each
disciples because of his “zeal” for God of us as beloved creations of
and judged his “righteousness under God. Repentance is our proper re- PRAYING WITH SCRIPTURE
the law, blameless” (Phil 3:6). Paul’s sponse to God’s mercy. All the hu- Reflect on God’s mercy and forgiveness.
goal was to serve God by doing what man gains Paul achieved prior to his Do you sometimes feel that there is
he understood God and the Torah de- call on the road to Damascus can be nothing for which you must repent? Or
do you more often sense that you are not
manded. described only as “rubbish” (skybala, worthy of God’s mercy and forgiveness?
In looking back on his previous a much earthier word in Greek that

ART: TAD DUNNE


What allows you to experience God’s
behavior, Paul will say that he is “the also means “dung”) in light of the overwhelming grace?
least of the apostles, unfit to be called saving act of Jesus Christ.
an apostle, because I persecuted the John’s Gospel also gives us a por-
church of God,” invoking that human- trayal of God’s mercy for those who sinfulness see mercy and forgiveness
ly generated sense of worthlessness think they do not need to repent and as something others need. But just as
that can be felt when we reflect on our those who might fear they are beyond none of us is unworthy to repent and
own sinfulness. But Paul does not stop it. Jesus encounters a woman who was to approach God for forgiveness, so
there, for God’s call generated Paul’s said to have been caught in adultery we must be willing to acknowledge
repentance and the overwhelming by the religious officials who brought that we are all in need of God’s mercy.
power of grace that permeated Paul’s her to Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees If you believe God’s mercy is only
life and writing: “By the grace of God I took the woman to Jesus, however, not for others or that you do not need
am what I am, and his grace toward me because of her sinfulness but because it, heed the apostle Paul: “press on
of their own. They wanted to “test him, toward the goal for the prize of the
so that they might have some charge heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
JOHN W. MARTENS is a professor of theology to bring against him.” This is a ruse God’s mercy and forgiveness are con-
at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn.
Twitter: @BibleJunkies. intended to snare Jesus; but like Paul, stant, and repentance is the path that
they must believe they are fulfilling reveals God’s grace and allows us to
God’s law by seeking to accuse Jesus. press on to Christ, the goal itself.
Jesus challenges the religious leaders  JOHN W. MARTENS

March 7, 2016 America 39


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