Today’s Gospel: John 8:1-11
Three challenges of discipleship are contained in this reading, reflected in the actions of Jesus: first he prays, then he receives the people with charity, finally he shows mercy. If we follow his example, this three-fold action can help us to be better disciples.
Prayer is not a passive thing, but an active decision. The verse preceding this reading tells us that at the end of the previous day after everyone went home, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. This was his customary place to pray, his refuge with the Father. When he didn’t have time to pray during the day, Jesus prayed at night. Clearly it was a priority for him.
Prayer nurtures our friendship with God, helping us know who God really is. If we want to grow, prayer must be a priority for us too. It has power to transform our faith into an attitude of love, not duty, and opens us to the presence of God at all times, not only when we stop to pray. This is the first challenge of discipleship.
After his night of prayer, Jesus comes to the temple “early in the morning,” and “all the people came to him.” Jesus is ready to respond to the needs of those who come to him! He teaches them, heals them and answers their questions. We too are called to ministry by being ready to receive any and all who come to us for help. It’s difficult to be ready to practice the ministry of charity, but the graces of our baptismal calling enable us to do this. As with prayer, it must be a priority if we want it to grow.
We train ourselves with practices that lead to greater readiness for charity. Mothers are continuously in training, receiving the children God has given us, teaching them, healing their hurts and answering their questions, hopefully growing to love all those who are vulnerable around us. This is the second challenge of discipleship.
Finally, Jesus shows mercy. In the gospel of John, there is a running theme of division between two groups: those who accept Jesus and those who reject him, most notably, the Pharisees. On this particular morning, the scribes and the Pharisees challenge Jesus by bringing a woman caught in adultery, who by law should be stoned to death. The woman is made to stand in front of everyone. We can imagine them all pointing at her and shaming her: you are a sinner; we are justified in judging you.
But Jesus offers a strange gesture: he bends down! Everyone else is standing, poised to attack, rocks in hand. His gesture stuns them. It shows that he is humble and gentle. He waits, writing words in the dusty ground. When the leaders keep questioning him, he says, simply, “Let anyone among you who is without sin throw the first stone at her.”
The Pharisees had set a trap for Jesus, but he caught them in the trap instead. They knew they could not publicly claim to be without sin, so they had to walk away, and the first to leave were the elders. When all have left but Jesus and the woman, Jesus says… I do not condemn you. Go and do not continue to sin. This is the third challenge of discipleship, to show mercy to sinners.
Perhaps this last one is the most difficult. Therese of the Child Jesus, an innocent soul who died at the age of 24 after nine years as a Carmelite nun, once asked herself, “Did not great sinners love God more than she did, since they were forgiven so much and would be more grateful?” But her conclusion was that God had taken the obstacles from her path, like a solicitous Father who clears the road that his little daughter is walking.
Therese realized that God had shielded her from the pain of committing many more sins and that she should be more grateful and praise God all the more. I think this is an important reflection, as it helps us understand that we are no better than any other person, but all of us have sinned and all are redeemed through the love of Christ. Mercy is grounded in this understanding and the Beatitude: blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy.
As we prepare during this last week of Lent, for the celebration of Christ’s love in the Paschal Mystery of the Cross and Resurrection, let us strive to be people of prayer, ministers of charity and mediators of God’s mercy.
What are my priorities today? How do they meet the three challenges of discipleship?
Lord, I stand before you as I am, a sinner in need of your understanding and mercy. You do not condemn me, but forgive. May my heart be contrite during the coming Holy Week, so that I may also feel the joy of resurrection.
Copyright 2014 Julie Paavola