Sunday, March 17, is the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year C).
Novena for Marriage
This year in America, marriage goes on trial during Holy Week. On March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a case that challenges the Defense of Marriage Act. That means a "Novena for the Legal Protection of Marriage" should start either on Monday, to end on the first day of the court hearings, or, maybe, on Sunday, March 17, to end on the feast of the Annunciation, March 25. In either case, the novena will include the feast days of both the husband and wife in marriage par excellence, Joseph and Mary. Search USCCB.org for the U.S. bishops’ "Prayer in Defense of Marriage." Pray it each of the nine days.
Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126:1-6, Philippians 3:8-14, John 8:1-11
Today, we read about the woman caught in adultery. Tuesday is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, where we read about Joseph’s decision to quietly divorce Mary. The two readings are directly related and tell us a great deal about Jesus, Joseph and our own lives.
Joseph’s decision to quietly divorce Mary may seem an odd choice for a day celebrating Joseph as a husband, but today’s Lenten reading gives the context necessary to understand it. He is a good husband.
When Joseph learns that his betrothed is pregnant, he has a big decision to make.
Joseph was a righteous man, says the Gospel, and he did not want to expose Mary to shame. So he decided to quietly divorce her — in other words, he made a decision that, whatever had happened in her life to bring about this pregnancy, Mary should not be punished.
Joseph made a decision to spare Mary the shame of a public denunciation — this is called "righteous" in the Gospel.
Now look at what happened in today’s Gospel. The Pharisees do not hesitate to publicly humiliate the woman caught in adultery. Not only do they shame her, they show themselves involved in other sordid doings: They managed to catch her in the act of adultery, and they have somehow spared the man involved.
Jesus deals with the situation in a brilliant way. Rather than make a pronouncement on the Law, he challenges the one without sin to cast the first stone. The Pharisees walk away, starting with the elders, who know best that none of them is without sin.
The apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree. Jesus certainly knew how his earthly father handled a similar situation, and Jesus follows Joseph’s example.
Notice two parallels between the situations in the words of Jesus.
The first thing Jesus says is, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Jesus is the one among us who is without sin, and the woman who broke the Sixth Commandment has precisely offended God. But Jesus does not pick up a stone. Like his father before him, he showed that true righteousness is shown by mercy.
Then Jesus speaks with the woman herself: "Go, and, from now on, do not sin anymore." This woman is not really in the position his Mother was in: His Mother was not adulterous. But the remedy he applies to this woman is that she follows in his Mother’s footsteps — his Mother has shown us that it is possible to go and not sin. He doesn’t excuse adultery; he forgives it, while calling us to a higher standard.
We can imagine Jesus saying the same words to us today. He calls us to be merciful to the sinners in our midst, and he wants to use us to give them hope. Our job isn’t to shame them; after all, we too are sinners. But he does call us to show with our lives and our words that it is possible, even today, to "go and sin no more."
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.