Saturday, April 06, 2019

Pulled from the Pit

5th Sunday in Lent (C)
Video: YouTube The Telegraph

My dear friends, do you know what it feels like to be rescued from a trap? Recently, there was a report in the news about six baby elephants found trapped in a pit of mud in Thailand. They were stranded. Unable to climb out on their own. Thankfully, some kind park rangers managed to dig them out. My dear friends, how do you think those baby elephants felt when they were stuck in the mud? And how do you think they felt when they were finally able to get out? … And what about us? How do we feel, for example, when we find ourselves stranded on a train or in an elevator that breaks down? And how do we feel when we’re finally set free? What is it like to be trapped, and what is it like to be rescued? These are the questions that our readings invite us to ponder on this 5th Sunday in Lent.

In the first reading, the people of Israel are pitifully trapped in Exile in Babylon. Not only are they stranded in a foreign country, they are stuck in the pit of their own sinfulness, their worship of foreign gods. But instead of condemning them, God promises to rescue them. Just as God had made a way for their ancestors across the Red Sea in the past, so does God promise to rescue them now. I am making a road in the wilderness, paths in the wilds. God will set them free, so that they might turn away from worshipping idols to sing the praises of God alone.

This experience of being trapped, of being rescued, and of being moved to sing the praises of God is also what St Paul is writing about in the second reading. This is the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For, although Paul was a highly religious person even before his conversion to Christ, he was actually trapped in his own prejudice. Stuck in his narrow interpretation of the Law. As a result, he ended up persecuting Christians. But the Lord appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus and rescued him. Gave him new eyes to see. So that Paul now lives his life as a song of praise to God alone. All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death.

What Paul writes about in the second reading is also what the adulterous woman experiences in the gospel. She too is trapped. Trapped not only in her own sin, but also by the injustice of her own society. Trapped by the self-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, who treat her not as a person in need of help, but as a weapon to be used for attacking Jesus. Trapped also by the discrimination of her male-dominated society, which seeks to punish only the woman for adultery but not the man.

My dear friends, what do you think this poor woman is feeling, as she stands accused, not just by others, but also by her own conscience? And how do you think she feels when Jesus comes to her rescue? What is it like for her to finally experience someone speaking up on her behalf? Making a way for her, as the park rangers did for those baby elephants. A path out the deadly pit of worldly condemnation, to the safety of God’s mercy and compassion? Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you, go… and do not sin any more.

To ponder the experience of being trapped and of being rescued. To recall what it’s like to be stranded in the sinfulness of my life and of my world, and then of being rescued by the merciful love of God, so powerfully expressed in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Isn’t this why I submit myself to the discipline of Lent? I pray and fast and give to the poor, not to torture myself, but to remember the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. So that I might turn away from the worship of idols – and the idols I'm tempted to worship are many – and live my life as a song of praise to the one true God. But in order for me to experience all this, I must first recognise the ways in which I may still remain trapped. Stuck in the self-centred ambitions and ceaseless anxieties, the accumulated anger and stubborn resentments, of my daily life. I need to recognise also how the Lord wishes to rescue me. To set me free.

My dear friends, in the gospel, the adulterous woman is not the only one who is trapped. The scribes and Pharisees are too. Highly religious though they may be, they remain stranded, as much in their jealousy and animosity towards Jesus, as in their abuse of the adulterous woman. However, unlike the woman, they are stuck but do not realise it.

And yet, the Lord wishes to rescue them too. Isn’t this also why he says, If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her? The Lord utters these words not just to save the woman, much less to condemn her accusers, but rather to rescue them all from their sins. Unfortunately, instead of turning to Christ and confessing their sins, the scribes and Pharisees choose instead to leave quietly. Possibly to save face. The holy men turn away, and remain trapped. The sinful woman stays with the Lord, and is saved.

My dear friends, as you know, this fifth week of Lent is also typically the time for penitential services. A time when we gather to examine our hearts and our lives, to see where we may still be trapped, and how the Lord wishes to rescue us.

Sisters and brothers, as we prepare to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation this week, are there in our lives perhaps some baby elephants that need to be pulled out of the mud today?

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