5th Sunday of Lent - April 7, 2019 (Thoman)

Scripture: Is 43:16-21 | Phil 3:8-14 | Jn 8:1-11

I. A common saying we have in our culture is, “Think outside the box.” We’re
trying to say – “break out of your old pattern of thinking” – look for new and
creative ways to do something…probably seek to accomplish the same purpose
but in a new and different way.

And here in the archdiocese, when it comes to pastoral planning or
developing new pastoral approaches, Archbishop Jackels reminds us - “Think
outside the box, but inside the circle.” Meaning – think of new and creative
ways to do things, but be faithful to Church teaching and canon law.
I think that is precisely what is happening in the scriptures today.

II. The first reading is part of a message of salvation given to the Hebrews in exile
in Babylon. Theirs is a culture of remembering the mighty deeds of the
past…the escape out of Egypt, of how God conquered the Egyptians and helped
them escape…Isaiah, the prophet is saying, “Yes, these were great deeds. But
God’s great deeds are not over! God continues, even now to do great things. See!
I am doing something new!”

The prophet does not condemn the past, but asks the people to look beyond
the past to something new. Within the context of the times, the prophet is
saying just as God brought your ancestors out of Egypt, so will God bring you
out of exile in Babylon.

And in the Gospel we see Jesus is, in fact, doing something new! But again –
Jesus doesn’t condemn the past…he doesn’t reject the law – but simply asks
people to look beyond the law and see the bigger picture. In addressing the
situation of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus is asking his listeners to see
that God’s mercy and compassion are bigger than the law.

And St. Paul, is one who seems to get it. Paul sees the bigger picture. For
Paul, nothing is more important than knowing Christ Jesus. There is no other
priority above that. Just like a runner in a race, Paul strains “forward to what
lies ahead.” He continues his pursuit of the goal, “the prize of God’s upward
calling in Christ Jesus.”

While he is grateful for the blessings of his past life, he sees them as so much
rubbish for the sake of Christ. For he has been grasped by Christ!

III. What an expression…to be grasped by Christ Jesus…..!!!!

Last week I shared with you in the bulletin my experience of having
encountered Christ. It began with my childhood environment of growing up in a
Catholic family and going to a Catholic school. Those seeds planted then quietly
grew in high school and especially in college where I was able to put all the
pieces of the puzzle into a coherent whole. That helped to solidify my encounter
with Christ. And then that encounter became firmly rooted within me in the
early years of priesthood, in the experiences of priestly ministry, but most
especially through such experiences as TEC and CEW. It was in those formative
years when I was grasped by Christ Jesus.

For me, nothing supersedes that priority. To have a relationship with
Christ…to live for Christ…to be grasped by Christ Jesus takes precedence over
everything else. That does not mean I do it all the time! Far from it! Like St.
Paul, I continue to strain ahead…I continue to strive for the very best. I continue
to grow in maturity and in the ways of living as a disciple of Jesus. In this way,
God is continually doing something new within me.

IV. And what about us? What about you? How is God doing something new in your

Placing life with Christ as our first priority means that everything else gets
shoved aside.

This past week Archbishop Wilton Gregory was appointed by Pope Francis as
Archbishop of Washington. In the press conference when he was introduced to
the Washington community, he related the story of a conversation he had when
he was sent as a young priest to go to Rome to study. He met a priest who told
him he would encounter three temptations in Rome: a temptation to think
highly of himself, a temptation to pleasure, and a temptation to power. The
most seductive of these is power. Someone who is grasped by Christ Jesus
chooses to rise above these – or any – temptations. Someone grasped by Christ

Jesus puts aside temptations to money, status, self-importance, prejudice, any
self-interest. Being grasped by Christ means we are constantly making choices
to choose the higher road, to choose the better path – or as Robert Frost would
say, the path less traveled. It is the path of integrity and goodness.
Someone grasped by Christ Jesus is always consciously choosing to love. Last
Thursday Archbishop Jackels joined us for confirmation and challenged our
youth to one thing: “To live is to give.” He said anyone who is a disciple of
Jesus is someone who is giving. And giving is loving. Someone grasped by
Christ Jesus seeks to be like Jesus himself – that is, as someone who died on the
cross for the sake of others.

V. To be grasped by Christ Jesus means we allow God to do something new in our

When that circle of accusers gathered around Jesus and the woman caught in
adultery, Jesus challenged each of them to think outside the box but inside the
circle. He acknowledged the sin of the woman and the parameters of the law, but
he also showed how God’s mercy rises above the law and looks at the person. As
a result the hearts of those accusers were at least softened. Perhaps they really
did begin to think outside the box.

We are closing in on the final days of Lent. The teachings of Lent, the
discipline in Lent, our own self-discipline are all intended to help our
relationship with Christ to rise to our first priority. Otherwise it is pointless
religious piety.

May our hearts be filled with love for Christ. May we recognize the new
things God does for us.
(Fr. Dwayne Thoman)