Fifth Sunday of Lent – C

PK is an Indian movie that was released in 2014. It tells the story of an alien who lands on earth and how he gets on. He wears an amulet which is vital as it keeps him in contact with his space ship.  Alas, within a few hours of his landing his amulet is stolen. The rest of the film deals with his attempts to get it back. I haven’t seen the movie but there is a little dialogue with a guru at one stage which I find very interesting.  Here is what the alien PK has to say to the guru:

“Which God do I trust? You say God is one. I say that is wrong. There are two Gods: One God who created us, and the other that you created. I don’t know anything about the one who created us. But the one you created is exactly like you: small, a liar, corrupt, one who meets the rich quickly and causes the poor to wait in long queues. He gets happy when he is appreciated and frightens people over small things. I have a simple point: trust the God who created us. And strike out the fake God you created.”

It looks like there are two Gods at work in today’s Gospel also.  There is the god of the Scribes and Pharisees who set a nasty trap for Jesus and then there is the loving and compassionate God of Jesus – a very different kind of God.

For a start, the god of the Pharisees is a sexist god.  They bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery but where is the man?  There is not a word mentioned about him. As always happens in a sexist society, the woman gets condemned and the man walks free. Also they have very little regard for this unfortunate woman.  She is brought into the Temple precincts, thronged with all kinds of people, and made to stand before everyone to shame her as publicly as possible. Then they insist that she should be put to death by stoning so as to follow the full rigour of the Law of Moses. Nor is she given any chance to defend herself.  For all we know the man could be the guilty party coercing her into this situation.  The Gospel, however, sees their motive not as zeal for the Law, but simply to use the woman as a pawn to discredit Jesus. Having stated the law of Moses they corner Jesus with the question: “What have you got to say?”  Thankfully it all backfired but the main point is that Jesus doesn’t support such social hypocrisy fed by male arrogance. Such sentencing to death doesn’t come from the God of Jesus. With admirable audacity he simply says: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”.

The accusers go away shamefaced. They know that they are the ones most responsible for the adulteries committed in that society. Then Jesus directs himself to the woman who has just escaped execution and with great tenderness and respect tells her: “Neither do I condemn you.” How comforting that must have been for her! He encourages her to make her gift of forgiveness the starting point for a new life: “Go away, and from this moment on, sin no more.”

The Pharisees, it would seem have created a god in their own image and likeness – a distant, stern and demanding God; a God who takes revenge, who loves to punish, who can be persuaded to forgive only after we have made a great show of repentance. Such of course is a mere caricature of God. At best this kind of religion can be cold and loveless. The subtle danger, however, is that there could be a Pharisee in our own hearts also, that we too have imagined God to be cold and heartless.  Pope Francis has continually resisted this notion of God. Ever since he set foot in the Vatican, (and he was elected this day three years ago) he has continually proclaimed a God who is like Jesus in today’s Gospel, namely, a loving, warm, compassionate and understanding God.  The very first sentence of Evangelii Gaudium says it all: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”

Is this not what Paul is saying in the second reading when he declares that he counts everything as loss, compared to the supreme value of knowing Jesus Christ as his Lord. It is as if he wants to say, ‘once you know Jesus, and how immeasurably loving and kind he is, then everything in your life will change’.  The real problem for the Christian is not that God is too distant, but that in Christ, God has come unbearably near.  Thus there is no safe vantage point from which we can speak about God.  Because of Jesus, God is right there in our hearts, in the very fabric of our being, but always as a loving and reassuring presence.

This moving story faces us with another serious challenge.  How seriously do we take the liberating action of Jesus in the face of this woman’s oppression?  Twenty centuries later and we still haven’t managed to unpack the consequences of this great action.  We are still a Church that is directed and inspired mostly by men, a Church in which we too often fail to be aware of all the injustices that women keep suffering in all areas of life. And what a loss it has been to the Church that the voices of women have gone largely unheard!

Twenty centuries later and in countries with supposedly Christian roots, we still live in a society where women often cannot move about freely without fear of men. Rape, physical abuse, humiliation aren’t imaginary things. On the contrary, they form perhaps the most deeply rooted violence and the one that causes the most suffering.

On this the fifth Sunday, we are entering into the very heart of Lent.  It is no mistake that we are presented with this great story in the Gospel to get home to us how near God is and how compassionate God is to all people. This means, of course, an end to all discrimination!  In the words of PK let us trust in the God who created us and strike out any fake God that we have created in our own image and likeness.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

 

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