Studying God’s Word

Isaiah 43:16-21
Philippians 3:8-14
John 8:1-11 [36C]
The readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent encourage us to be open to God’s providence and mercy in our lives. God imagines ever anew a future for us beyond what our limited vision allows us to see.
The first reading from the prophet Isaiah was originally heard by the Israelites held captive by the Babylonians. For nearly two generations, 597–538 BC, the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon. The great prophets before Second Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, attributed the cumulative sins of the people as the root cause for Israel’s captivity in Babylon. Mired in guilt for their sins and finding no hope in their captivity in a foreign land, Israel had no reason to think about a new future. But at some point in the latter stages of their exile, around 550 BC, the prophet known as Second Isaiah emerged with an unthinkable prophetic oracle heard in today’s first reading: God was offering a promise of redemption and restoration to the exiled Israelites. The sins of the people that led to their exile were forgiven by God. But Second Isaiah taught the people not to look to their history and expect divine intervention as was remembered with Moses and the Israelites when they were led out of Egyptian slavery. Rather, Israel should anticipate something different: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” God’s deliverance of Israel from the Babylonian Exile would usher in a new age of unimagined expectations.  
The Gospel reading from John is the well-known story of the woman caught in adultery. As the story unfolds, it is clear that the Pharisees and scribes who caught the women in the act of adultery are not really interested in justice as defined by the Mosaic law; rather, they were using the woman to “test” and embarrass Jesus publicly. The Jewish religious leaders were right in their interpretation of the law of Moses; adultery was a grave sin punishable by death (see, for example, Lv 20:10; Dt 22:22, but note both the man and woman were subject to the death penalty). But Jesus challenged the Pharisees and the scribes to consider mercy over judgment, since all are sinners in hope of divine mercy. Just as Second Isaiah prophesied something new coming from God, Jesus offered a different reaction to grave sin that stretched the Jewish understanding of the law of Moses. Jesus taught both the religious leaders and the adulterous woman that mercy more so than judgment is more effective in turning away from sin.
The second reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Paul wrote this letter to the church in Philippi during one of his imprisonments (see 1:7, 13, 14, 17). Tradition favors Rome as the place of composition, making this letter one of his last written correspondences, dated to the early AD 60s. The tone of the letter, and certainly today’s reading, is one of self-reflection. Paul speaks of his desire for attaining “perfect maturity,” but realizes he has fallen short. But Paul does not dwell on the past (“forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead”); he chooses to stay focused on pursuing the goal: “the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” Paul, too, sees God leading us to a new and unimagined future.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz