Lent abounds with opportunities for new life

By: Sharon Priester

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 21
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126:1-2,2-3,4-5,6; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

As I reflected on the last two Sundays of Lent, four words came to mind: repentance, forgiveness, compassion, mercy. On the third Sunday of Lent, we heard Jesus warning the people that if they didn’t repent, they would perish. Then he used the parable of the barren fig tree to help them see God’s mercy and compassion. The gardener, wanting to save the fig tree, begged the owner of the orchard to let him nourish and cultivate the tree. We don’t know if the owner consented to let the fig tree be saved, but we do know that God, being merciful and compassionate, allows each of us to nourished and enriched by his word and the Eucharist so that we can bear good fruit and be saved.

Last Sunday, Jesus instructs through the parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger son asks his father for his inheritance and sets off for a far away country. After “he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation,” (Luke 15:13) he decides to return home. His father, seeing him from a distance, runs out to greet him, welcoming him back and celebrating the return of his son who “was lost and has been found.” (Luke 16:24)
God, our merciful Father, welcomes us when we, like the younger son, wanting to be with the Father, ask forgiveness and repent of our former life.

This Sunday, Isaiah, a prophet, has been called by God to tell the exiled Israelites that they will be set free. As he helped their ancestors, the Lord promises to do the same for them: “See, I am doing something new.” God is forgiving and releasing the Israelites, making a way out of the wasteland, rescuing them from the wild beasts, providing them with living water, restoring them as a nation.

In the passage from John’s Gospel, the scribes and Pharisees, strictly following the Mosaic law, bring an adulterous woman to Jesus. Knowing that the law prescribed that the woman be stoned, they try to trap Jesus by asking him what he would do. Jesus answers by challenging them: “Let the one who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, the elders leave, knowing they, too, have sinned.

Jesus and the adulterous woman, who has been rejected by society, remain. Instead of condemning her, Jesus is compassionate and merciful. He forgives her and gives her an opportunity for a “new” life, reminding her “to sin no more.”

Paul addresses the Philippians in the second reading. Having repented of his former life and having a deep faith in Christ, he tells the people nothing is as important as their faith in Christ. Like Isaiah, he says, “remember not the events of the past,” but encourages them to continue to grow in faith, looking forward to “the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”

According to “Catholic Customs and Traditions” by Greg Dues, the word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for springtime, lencten. Spring, which happens to begin this weekend, is a time of new life. For the RCIA elect and candidates, it is the beginning of a new life in Christ.

How can we, in these remaining days of Lent, prepare for the celebration of Easter? Are there some attitudes and conditions in our life that keep us from going for “the prize of God’s upward calling?” How can we let go of these conditions and attitudes so that we can proclaim with the Psalmist, “The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy”?

Sharon Priester is one of six regional directors of religious education working with the diocesan Office of Catechetics and serves the Bloomington and Lincoln vicariates of the Diocese of Peoria. She is a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Bloomington. Contact her at dspriest@msn.com.

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