Fifth Sunday of Lent - March 21, 2010, Year C
By Dennis Hankins
The First Stone
"Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." (Jesus)
Lent is a time for reflection. A time to embrace sober judgment in our self examination. A time to resist thinking more highly of ourselves than is warranted. It is a time to see whether we are remaining true to the faith; to our first love. This is deeply personal. It is deeply necessary.
It is the rule of faith that clarifies, restoring a true vision and perspective. This is sorely needed in our time. The darkness encroaching around us is the result of self blinding vindication. It is the intoxication of power felt in the clutching of the stone. The rule of might makes right while the still, small voice within goes unheeded. The rule of faith ignored. The life of God within diminished.
So why is confession necessary? Because we need someplace to drop our stones. My bag of stones might not be as large as some. Then again it may be the largest. It gets heavier every time I justify that bag of stones: like insisting on my own way, making my point with self gratifying words, being cocky, judgmental, vindictive, unloving, unkind, and unmindful. The more stones I throw, the more I have to throw. This bag of stones just gets heavier by the minute.
Who is he who is without sin?
Have you ever noticed that pointing out the sin in others makes you feel cozy in your own sins? Let's get real with ourselves and with our God. Even the greatest of saints regularly met with their confessor. Why? Because we are to 'work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.' (Phil. 2:12)
Salvation is deeply personal and dependent upon a humble and contrite heart; an offering God does not reject. (Psalm 51:17) The reason for the Church's ministry of reconciliation through confession is to assist all of us who 'strain forward to what lies ahead.' (Phil. 3:13) Even St. Paul urges us to remain true to what we have attained. (Phil. 3:16) Honesty requires we acknowledge we have spots, wrinkles, and blemishes; we are a work of grace in progress, let us confess our sins and be healed.
What would our world look like if personal house cleaning preceded the inventory we take of the dirt in our neighbor's life? As Jesus put it, "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3) This was the blindness of the scribes and Pharisees. They caught the woman they brought before Jesus in the very act of adultery, but they could not see themselves clearly.
So they pushed ahead with their agenda. "What do you say, Jesus? Do we stone her like the law of Moses commands?" This they said to test him.
We can only speculate on what Jesus wrote on the ground. Pressing him, they look for a way to bring some charge against him.
Jesus responds, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her."
Wow! The question on whether I need to go to confession this Lent is answered in that statement. Who is he who is without sin?
A diverse audience reads these Reflections on the Readings. Like many of you, I did not grow up in a Christian tradition that understands going to a priest to make confession of sins. Many of you like myself, come from a tradition of 'being born again.'
Additionally, I grew up with the understanding that it was not necessary to confess my sins to anyone but God. I've heard it a hundred times, "I don't need to confess my sins to a priest; he's just a man! I can talk to God."
However, sin usually makes us run from God, doesn't it? Ask Adam and Eve. Since becoming a Christian at the age of 9, I have wrestled often with my lack of holiness. So what is accomplished in confession? Coming to confession is like running toward God to be reconciled to God. The priest becomes the voice of Jesus in forgiveness and pardon. He who was without sin, takes all of my sin and remembers it against me no more. Burying it in the sea of his blood, he forgives and forgets. Then I grow in grace and holiness.
Jesus is a friend of sinners, sinners like you and me, saying to all who ever came to this feast, "Where are your accusers?"
Seeing none he continues, "Neither do I condemn you.
Take, eat, this is my body. Take, drink, this is my blood."
Let us pray: Dearest Father, remove far from me a stony heart, and replace it with a heart and love for Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.