God's Word on Sunday: There is no future in living in the past

  • April 1, 2019

Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 7 (Year C) Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

The motto of God could well be “I am about to do a new thing!”

As we study both Scripture and human history, it is evident that God continually surprises, shocks and occasionally outrages us by doing new and unexpected things. Just when we think we have God all figured out (and under our control!), God pulls the rug out from under us with something unexpected.

This should warn us to refrain from labeling and controlling God mentally. God should be sought in the present moment — not the moment just past or the one to come. In this prophecy, written towards the end of the Babylonian exile in the mid-sixth century BC, the people of Israel were given a “heads up.” God was up to something. The people were going to be released and allowed to go home.

The Babylonian empire had been humbled, and their Persian conquerors were more tolerant and enlightened than they were. God claimed credit — divine power and will were the driving forces behind the events that were taking place. Even the natural order — the animals — recognized God’s sovereignty and honoured Him.

But there was something required of God’s people and it was crucial. God urged them to “not remember the former things or consider the things of old.” In other words, they were not to brood on the past or continually relive the trauma of defeat and exile.

It would also not be helpful to look back nostalgically on a mythical rosy past, a response all too common with most people. The past is past and cannot be undone; living in the past is unhealthy and unhelpful.

Paul’s life was a testimony to this principle. He had been very faithful and successful in his religious commitment and was quite satisfied — even proud — of his accomplishments. Then something happened: He met the risen Lord, and his life was never the same. The status and sense of achievement that he had enjoyed — good as they were — now seemed like nothing, even trash, in comparison to his new life.

He had experienced the power of Christ’s resurrection and had been transformed. This gave his whole life an urgency that propelled him onward towards the final goal, life with Christ. Paul never looked back, except to marvel and give thanks for all that God had done for him.

What happens when we forget our need for healing and forgiveness and the kindness that God has shown to us? Just like the crowd in the Gospel story, we project our darkness on others, judging and condemning them with self-righteous zeal.

The story of the woman taken in adultery is often misunderstood. It is not primarily about forgiveness, but self-awareness. The lynch mob had cornered the woman and were intent on blood. Injustice was present from the very start. The law required that both the man and woman be punished, but the male part of the relationship was conspicuously absent.

Jesus could have confronted the crowd and argued with them, but it probably would have been useless. Jesus took control of the situation by refusing to meet their gaze or address them directly. He even agreed with their insistence that the woman be stoned, thereby removing any negative reactions on their part. But by a masterful distracting action, He took control of the situation.

Bending down, He wrote in the sand — we don’t know what He wrote and it doesn’t matter. It threw them off balance. He then invited the one without sin to cast the first stone, and then He bent down and continued to write.

In the long silence that followed, the stones fell from their hands, one by one, and they slunk away. He had forced them to confront and acknowledge their own sin and inner darkness.

We judge and condemn others when we have not dealt with our own darkness. Jesus did not experience inner darkness and He did not judge or condemn the woman.

In our own shrill and combative age, the lesson from this story would serve us well. We are beginning to discover the depths of our own darkness — politicians, institutions and the Church — and how much we need to deal with it before daring to judge and condemn others.

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