13th of Mar, Fifth Sunday of Lent Year C

One great temptation we all face is self-righteous judgement of others. We see that in our gospel in the form of the woman caught in adultery. The pharisees wanted her stoned, but Christ says, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Lets confess any ways we may unfairly judge others.

During the world war, in Auschwitz, worst of the concentration camps, there was a rabbi. The head guard in the camp treated him badly. When the camp was liberated, the inmates gathered around this commander to hang him. But the rabbi stopped them: “kill him and you’ll have to kill me as well”, he said, “we must forgive, otherwise we’re as bad as he is”. The reading from Isaiah for today says the same thing. We must be rich in forgiving for God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, his ways are not our ways.
Yet too often we judge and condemn others in God’s name, making him responsible for our narrow views. Unfortunately, religious people, I say this with shame, are often the worst in this. Jesus confounded the Pharisees who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery. He said: “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. God warns us not to cast him in our own hateful image: “my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways”.
Yet today many claim God for their own bigoted or violent positions. That’s what gives religion a bad name – from Bin Laden to fundamentalist Christians. I think of Northern Ireland where people like Paisley would claim that all Catholics, including the Pope, are enemies of God. Only his small church, that perpetrates division, worships the true God. And we Catholics can be just as divisive and exclusivist at times.
But, in fact, if we want to come even remotely close to the true God, we must continually widen our thinking. We must have ever bigger hearts, ever more inclusive souls. That’s what the Gospel tells us. The woman caught in adultery was not condemned by Christ, but those who would condemn her was. Narrow jealously and envy of Christ himself fuelled their test. Christ was leading the people away from their bigotry back to the true God and true worship. They hated his generous forgiveness and love of sinners, his liberal outreach, like many strict religious people do.
But God’s ways are not our ways, he is generous as the heavens. But anti-religious liberals and secularists can also fall into the trap of the Pharisees. They can be just as intolerant and narrow-minded in their libertine agenda, closing their souls to God and spiritual values. That spiritual closedness was the lot of fanatical secularists such as Stalin who turned churches into museums while killing millions to enforce his ideology. But God’s ways are never enforced, we must freely choose the faith.
We must shun the narrow thinking of men and show God’s generosity of spirit. We must keep open hearts and minds, judge no one, embrace all like Christ did. He said prostitutes and sinners would enter heaven before the Pharisees, the righteous in their own eyes. If we come remotely close to God’s generosity l we’ll be true saints also. And as Christians that’s what we’re called to be. “Why are you envious because I’m generous”, God says, “my ways are not your ways”. Let us stop casting God in our own image. Lets stop making the hateful world and its values into God. Lets worship the true and all-loving God, the end of all our soul-seeking. For only that God makes us open, loving, generous and spiritually alive in Christ who embraced all, even enemies, on the cross. For narrow minded ways are a dead end, but Christ is lord of love, faith, forgiveness, beauty, truth, happiness, peace and salvation for this world and forever and ever, amen.
So as God’s people following the faith-filled ways of Christ’s all-embracing love, lets profess our faith with open hearts..

Prayers of the Faithful
And as God’s people lets pray to be his open heart to the world.

For the church that it may emerge from present crises more open, accountable, humble, contrite, democratic and people orientated.

For civil leaders that a narrow focus on economics may not close their hearts to the real purpose of politics, the service of all the people of the nation and especially those most in need..
For the victims of child abuse that they may find healing and redress for the hurt they have received at the hands of church members and its closed and unlistening hierarchy….

For ourselves that we may not be discouraged by this debacle but emerge from it with stronger faith in following Christ and the church in its holiness, despite its flawed human instruments..

For the sick, the aged, aids patients and all we may be tempted to ostracize, that we may make them our special care…

For the dead, that in that great act of charity on their behalf, our prayers, we may bring them to their final rest..

And we ask these prayers through the all-compassionate Christ.

The church’s apologies for clerical child abuse, remind us that we all need to repent at times. I hope it will make church authority more open, humble and accountable in the gospel model of leadership. If Christ were among us today I’m sure he’d be saying that abused people should speak and be heard. And that sex predators who target the young must be exposed and punished, and structures put in place in society and the church to protect the vulnerable. Already we’ve that in our diocese but we must implement it rigorously, and do everything possible for the victims. If the financial pay-outs makes the church poorer, good! The weaker the church is, the freer it is to serve God. Lets pray for an open and loving church to its Mother Mary…Hail Mary