We remember a lot of things. Scientists say – and this is
proven by experience – that there is more to our remote memory than what our
recent memory bank contains. Older people remember a whole lot from their
childhood, but often forget what they just did a few weeks or months back –
nay, even what they had for breakfast this morning.
But we do remember past hurts. We hold on to grudges. We
remember very well the times someone else pulled a fast one on us, and walked
all over us. We remember the tears. We remember the pain. We remember the
sufferings untold. And we hold on to anger. And, to be honest, who among us did
not at least once give in to the desire to take revenge?
Today, the Lord upsets our usual memory. And He does so,
right from the first reading: “Remember not the events of the past, the things
of long ago, consider not.” Notice the insistence? The line says the same thing
St. Paul, who was an observant and practicing Jew, knew more
than his rituals and rules. He remembered how he persecuted the incipient
Church. He remembered how rabidly against he was, even how he “breathed
murderous threats” against the small band of believers and followers of the
Today, Paul counsels pretty much the same: “I consider
everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus, my
Lord.” He emphasized “just one thing … forgetting what lies behind but
straining forward to what lies ahead … the prize of God’s upward calling in
You know dear friends, I would like to point out one thing.
We have such powerful memories. We call for capital punishments for heinous
crimes. We ask that drug dealers be banished from the face of the earth. A
significant number of us want the restoration of the death penalty for certain
high-profile crimes. If we are to be honest, we gloat every time we hear about criminals
getting their just desserts by getting killed.
We even remember the Old Testament prescriptions of death to
adulterers and blasphemers, and we are happy when the good guy in movies finish
off the bad guys, no matter how violent may have been the means.
Today, however, the Christian good news tells us more than
just “remember not the events of the past.” The Christian good news tells us to
savor the words and promises of the Lord: “See I am doing something new!”
Everyone around the Lord on that drama-filled day expected
that the rules be applied. The woman, was, after all, caught in a heinous crime
of their days – adultery. The Law was clear. She had to put to death by
stoning. The Scribes and Pharisees sure knew their law. They were so sure of
their law that they needed no lawyers. All they needed was witnesses.
The poor woman’s fate was sealed. There was no escape for
her. The Law was clear and straightforward, and there was an angry mob of
respectable and learned – but very angry men, mind you, who were not ready to
forget the events of the past, but they sure as hell would not let things like
this go. Not when there was a perfect opportunity to put the Lord to shame,
too, in public.
The Lord knew. The Lord understood. The Lord saw their real
intentions. It was not to punish the public sinner – the woman caught in
adultery. It was not even to impress upon people how bad the sin was, but it was a perfect
opportunity for them to test the rabble rouser and much sought after teacher
and wonder-worker, and possibly, to put him down in public.
The woman who was not alone when she did the deadly sin –
for it always takes two to commit adultery – was totally alone in her shame, in
her wretchedness, in the midst of an unforgiving crowd that was thirsting for
But the Lord was there to fulfill the new things promised of
old. The Lord was there to continue the tradition that every good and
practicing Jew recited from memory: “The Lord has done great things for us. We
are filled with joy.” The Lord was there, to teach the self-righteous, but very
cruel accusers a lesson.
And this is a lesson worth remembering – a new thing worth
bearing in mind, never to be lost again – that each one of us stands alone
before God. The Lord, the Savior, the Redeemer, the merciful God was not about
to join the bandwagon of people who just did things based on rules and rituals.
The Lord was there to show that God stands with the sinner in solidarity, and
not above the same sinner in judgment.
Bishop Robert Barron, commenting on the life of St. Paul,
spoke of “sheer, shocking grace” that
made Saul change his ways from persecutor to avid disciple. This is similar to
the experience I had as a student of theology and as one preparing for
ordination. I was working on week-ends in a parish led by an old Italian
missionary. I attended a birthday party with the young people of the parish. I
got a little tipsy and went home to the parish way past midnight.
Fr. Giovanni Rizzato knew I went home late. He knew I was a
little drunk. The following morning, he asked me point blank: “What time did
you get home last night?” I could not tell a lie as I was sure he knew. I told
the truth. He gave me a little knock on the head and said: “Don’t do that
again. I won’t tell your Rector, but never do that again.”
He stood by me in my fault. He did not sit above me in
judgment. He suffered with me then in sheer compassion. He did what the books
of rules didn’t say. He was as compassionate as he was firm.
Friends, I learned my lesson for life. I learned that there
is such a thing as sheer and shocking grace – the same sheer and shocking grace
of compassion and mercy that God, in Christ showed the woman caught in
“Has no one condemned you?” “Neither do I condemn you. Go,
and fror now on, do not sin any more.”
“Behold I am doing something new … Even now, return to me
with your whole heart, for I am gracious and merciful.”
Last week, if you remember, we talked about the overflowing
mercy and love of God. That love, we said, was tender and true. But the same
love was equally tough. It was expected to bear fruit. It was a love not meant
to be verbally acclaimed, butconcretely
experienced, by both the lover and the beloved.
This Sunday, fourth in the season of Lent, we seem to have a
sequel. We are told in the first reading: “Today, I have removed the reproach
of Egypt from you.” The chosen people, we are further told, ate no longer free
but boring manna, but from the “produce of the land in the form of unleavened
cakes and parched grain.”
The people’s brokenness was nourished back to wholeness.
What was old and shameful was replaced by something new and wonderful. This
much, St. Paul assures us now in the second reading: “Whoever is in Christ is a
new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”
We all appreciate anything new … or anything restored. Many
of us desire new cellphones, and new gadgets. That includes me, by the way, for
I have a new handycam to shoot this video reflection.
Back in the day, there were not too many gadgets. Neither
were there too many clothes available. Signature apparel and branded clothings
were not yet the craze the world over. Toys were often hand-me-down items, or
recycled goods from old, usable raw materials. But people were creative. Old,
used clothes that no longer fitted growing boys and girls were never thrown
away. No … they were altered; they were restyled, re-stitched and redone, not
just recycled. They were renewed or otherwise restored to passable newness.
They were given a fresh lease on life, figuratively and literally speaking.
What would otherwise have been reduced to rags were restored
to relative newness.
This, my dear fellow believer, is the story of all of us,
born of Adam and Eve. We were worse off than rags when we sinned. Sinners that
we all are, we needed Someone from above to restore us to spiritual health and
reform us to wholeness and greatness. St. Paul reminds us of this Someone who
came down to lift us up: “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know
sin so that we we might become the righteousness of God in him.”
In life, a misstep, a mistake, a false move can sometimes
bring us to grief. It can make us older for our years. It can make us feel down
and out, beaten, and battered deep inside. Sin has a way of taking away
youthfulness and inner serenity in our personal lives.
This is what happened to the younger son of the parable of
today. He was more than just brash. He was cheeky. He was as ambitious and as
independent as he was imprudent. Young in years, he soon felt old and dry as a
withered branch cut off from the tree. You see, this is what sinful pride can
do to an otherwise healthy scion. It soon withers and wrinkles to a crisp and
But the young, “old” man, who may have broken his affinities
with family, never actually rended his relationship, kept alive by the
life-sustaining love of a doting, loving father.Old rags never lose their worth and
usefulness for people who care and love and believe in them. The old man who
never for a minute waned in his love for his “bunso” – his younger son – believed
in his heart that even shattered affinities can be restored back to lasting and
The old man kept waiting. The young man kept on pondering on
what he had done. He realized he had unilaterally sundered all affinities. But
there was something in him that was still salvageable. There remained something
in the younger son that could be nourished back to health, much like rags could
be fashioned to become new garments. He held on to a relationship. He called on
his Dad as “Father.”
And so he decided. He went back home and said: “Father, I
have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called
your son. Treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”
He repented. Contemporary language would refer to his being
rehabilitated. But I beg to disagree. He was not just rehabilitated, but was
restored totally to newness, to health and total well-being. The Father whom he
still called “father” did not recriminate, did not ask him difficult questions
and made his homecoming more difficult that it had already been. Sandals, fresh
clothes, a ring on his finger and food and celebrations speak not of
rehabilitation, but of prodigality of a father’s love.
Come now, dear friends and fellow believers. Taste and see
the goodness of the Lord! The son – who now represents sinful and selfish us –
may be very good at breaking affinities, but God, Father and merciful Lord, is,
and has always, and will always be better at restoring relationships and
nurturing us to full spiritual health.
Father of mercy, thank you for your love. Thank you for
restoring us to total newness in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
I am a pilgrim. I am a learner. I journey with others in faith and life. In all I do, in my preaching, teaching, counseling, and writing, "all I want is to know Christ, and to experience the power of his resurrection" (Phil 3:10). By so doing, I humbly hope to make a difference in people's lives.