5th Sunday of Lent, Year C
Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
– First Reading (Is 43:18-19a)
St. Paul opens his Letter to the Romans speaking of those who “became vain in their reasoning” and fall into idolatry and many sorts of adulterous and unnatural acts of the body, even calling them “heartless”. (Rom 1:24-32 NABRE) He continues referring to this hardness of heart later in his letter, teaching that “he has mercy upon whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills.” (Rom 9:18)
But Christ came to begin something new. The Word, the second person of the Trinity, was the fullness of Truth and the fullness of reason. He was, in fact, the personification of the truth of natural law written into our human hearts.
He knew the temptations that we each face, and the falls that we may occasionally have in this life, and He came to redeem us from them.
We with Hardened Hearts
And in today’s Gospel, the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus comes face to face with one of us with hardened heart…
The Pharisees press Jesus…
“Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
– John 8:5-11
God himself comes face to face with a heart hardened with sin, and shows himself as what he is: truth, love, and mercy.
In fact, he also faces the crowd with hardened hearts and asks them to consider softening them. He asks them to drop the stones from their hands and accept a softening of their own stony hearts.
He extends mercy, shows love, and asks her – and them – to return to truth.
New Hearts, True Hearts
A frequent reading in the Liturgy of the Hours through Lent has long been one of my favorite passages of the Bible. It speaks precisely of God’s desire to take our hardened hearts and replace them with new hearts, hearts of the flesh of truth.
I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them. (Ezek 36:25-27)
Oh, how I love this passage. How I love the gentle mercy of Jesus. How I love the idea of my own heart, hardened by sin, being made new by Jesus. Softened, re-made into a heart of flesh.
I, like every other man and woman, have fallen short in living the life of grace that God gave me in the waters of Baptism. I have fallen out of relationship with God.
I am thankful that, through the redemption won on the cross, Jesus is able to extend his hand, turn back those who would stone me, and offer me a new heart of flesh. I long to be in His truth and grace, and to keep His commands.
Praise God for the gift of mercy in reconciliation, which allows us to return to Him and sing, as the Psalmist, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” (Ps 126)