4/3/22 Homily: To Stand in his Presence
Updated: May 23, 2022
Sunday Year C Readings can be found: [HERE]
Just a brief word regarding the covering of the crucifix and statues throughout the church before speaking on the gospel. I don’t know if it’s obligatory to do so these days, but it is customary to veil the crucifix, statues, and holy images in the last two weeks before the Easter Vigil. The exception to this is the Stations of the Cross, which are never veiled.
Whether intentional or not, the veiling of sacred images can have a jarring effect for those who regularly frequent the Church. When one comes to Church precisely to encounter the sacred, the veiling of the sacred can give rise to a certain level of anxiousness by depriving us of sensible consolation.
The veils are not meant to be there forever. Their brief use until the Easter Vigil heightens our anticipation for the events of Holy Week and prepares us for them. Ordinarily, it would be at the Easter Vigil when holy water returns to our fonts, when the Easter candle is ignited that our devotional candles be back in use, and the celebration of the Resurrection when the faces of God's angels and saints be revealed once again. But for the present moment, when our attention is pulled away from some of these images, our attention focuses on what we do see; namely, the action that takes place at Mass.
By the way, that’s why even ordinarily I try to refrain using digital monitors during the Mass. We’re not meant to watch Mass on a television screen. We’re meant to participate in the Mass as a priestly people who are drawn into the action, which centers around the chair, the ambo, and the altar. That’s why these the three primary places from which the celebrant speaks.
The Stations aren’t covered because that’s an action-oriented devotion. We walk in procession accompanying Christ on his journey to Calvary, and then to the tomb. Now to our gospel.
In our passage today, the scribes and the Pharisees aggressively try to force Jesus to enter into a dangerous discussion of politics versus religion, tempting Jesus to judge between the two. And when I say religion, I don’t mean the religion that God established and intended, but the religion that had been hijacked by the Pharisees and scribes.
Now If Jesus spoke in behalf of the woman—and it was probably already well-known that Jesus was merciful towards sinners—then the scribes and Pharisees would condemn Jesus for speaking against the Law of Moses.
On the other hand, if Jesus consented to the woman’s execution, that she should be stoned to death, then the Pharisees could accuse Jesus of violating Roman law, by inciting others to execute another person. Only Rome could condemn people to death.
This is one of the ugliest, lowest traps ever set by the scribes and Pharisees. Hatred and envy of Jesus filled their hearts, and they were willing to use anything and anyone to bring about his downfall.
The woman had been caught “in the act” of adultery. Just think about that for a moment. She was caught in the very act of adultery... She was likely only half-dressed at best, or perhaps covered with a blanket she could grab at the last moment. Her shame is left exposed for all to see. But she’s beneath any real notice from the scribes and Pharisees, who aren't actually interested in her fate, or justice for any family, or in any injury that was done to any spouse. Their only interest is in finding fault with Jesus; and they view this woman only as a tool to be used for that purpose.
But Jesus refuses to play this game of politics versus religion—on their terms—because this isn’t a game to Jesus. It’s a heartbreaking tragedy, where Jesus is forced to witness, not just the shame of the woman, but even worse; the complete disregard of human dignity and decency.
And so, as the crowd is dismissive of the woman before them, using her as no more than an tool, Jesus seems dismissive of the crowd’s attempt to draw him into framework, until they finally disperse; and only two remain: Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.
It’s striking that the woman doesn’t try to escape at the first opportunity. She doesn’t run, or fold in fear, in anger, despair, or shame; disheveled as she must be. Remarkably, she simply stands there in a reverent silence, as if forgetting herself, accepting with humble confidence the sentence of Christ; waiting for him, until he finally stands to look at her face to face, literally seeing eye-to-eye. It’s beautifully symbolic for the dialogue that follows.
“Woman, where are they?” Jesus says. “Has no one condemned you?” Earlier, you remember, the woman had stood in the midst of an entire crowd, but she wasn’t part of the discussion.
But now, for the first time, she becomes an active character, drawn into dialogue by Jesus. To Jesus she was never an object to be used, but rather she has always been someone capable of dialogue; capable of relationship.
The woman herself understood the relationship, as shown in her response: “No one, Lord”—Kyrie; we use that same word when we confess our sins at the beginning of Mass. It’s on the basis of that relationship, established by the briefest of dialogues, between Lord and sinner, redeemer and redeemed, that Jesus is able to forgive her of her sins, and give her a new beginning, and the summons to live a life without sin: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
To this day, a staggering number of women are still being publicly degraded. So many have their shame exposed for others to see. So many are treated as objects, as tools to be used and then cast aside. I’m speaking specifically about the pandemic of pornography, and the entire culture surrounding this tragedy.
The statistics surrounding this crisis are devastating, and even secular sources acknowledge the destructive effects it has on society, marriage, and the family. But at the heart of every image is a very real person, someone with an irrevocable dignity. However compromised or marginalized anyone might seem, we can never forget about the redemption that Jesus desires for every single person. He wants every single one of us to stand before him, face to face, seeing eye-to-eye. He wants us to be in right relationship with God and with one another.
In this season of Lent, let us remember the dignity of every single woman, without exception, and pray for the grace and courage to defend that dignity, in the eyes of our community and of our world.