Fifth Sunday of Lent

From time to time, even accomplished celebrated people inflict upon themselves catastrophic career-ending injury and damage. At times that utterly awful cringeworthy blunder is an accidental reckless thoughtless misstep. But at times it can be a measured well-orchestrated malicious offence. And judgement aside, we see them differently. We are stunned in disbelief. We experience sadness and betrayal and outrage. The higher the pedestal, the more devastating the fall. Those equally guilty but have escaped notice can rest easy for as long as the spotlight is on someone else. Even more if they hop on the bandwagon lending their angry voices and pointing their fingers in condemnation of what they too are guilty. And when the uproar subsides, they can leave proof of their moral outrage and superiority. That is, until the spotlight falls on them. Eventually the chickens do come home to roost and someone least likely to arouse suspicion is caught unawares with their hand in the cookie jar, and the circus returns to town once again.

When will we learn? Why does history keep repeating itself? Why do elected officials work the law to their advantage and line their pockets? Why do religious and moral leaders abuse their authority and those entrusted to their care? Why do world-famous athletes and celebrities demand outrageous salaries? Why do healthcare workers endanger the life and safety of their patients? Why do law enforcement use excessive force on unarmed and defenseless citizens? Why do playground bullies terrorize nerdy kids on and off school property? Why do people who claim to be good Christians cheat, steal, and lie. What is wrong with people?

There’s no denying it. We are all sinners, children of Adam and Eve. But some of us will never admit to that in public. Some won’t even admit to it in private. And having some familiarity with both sides of the confessional going on 50 years now, I can say with confidence few of us are ever as good as we claim or want to be. The rest are clueless or in denial. Is there a fix? If it’s in our DNA, then not likely. But we do have choices and the power to minimize injury and damage to others and to ourselves. We know right from wrong. Our attitude is our choice. We don’t want to offend those we care about. We want to be treated with respect and kindness. And we know to treat others the way we want them to treat us. We probably shouldn’t say out loud everything that crosses our minds. And we apologize when we are in the wrong.

We are familiar with temptation, and particularly the temptations we give in to on a regular basis. People will refer to them in confession as the usual sins. And I often ask if you are doing anything differently so you don’t keep making the same mistakes. Some people don’t even see the point in trying. Why bother? They’re content to confess the same things over and over. But if you’re not learning anything in the process, you’re just not paying attention. Imagine walking out your front door and walking to the curb you trip into a pothole. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, assess the damage, and go your merry way. Now if tomorrow you trip into the same pothole, it might still be excusable but barely. If it happens again after that, you’re just not paying attention.

A point arrives in our lives when we become aware of patterns in our thinking, speaking, and behaving when we make those poor choices we later regret. We know when temptation is the strongest and when we are the weakest. We know who we’re with, where we are, what time of day it is, and all the other circumstances that converge to make our colossal failure possible. And we know we have power to avoid what leads us to sin. It is at that precise moment that we need to make a better choice, better than the previous time when we tripped into the same pothole because we weren’t paying attention and it’s still exactly where it’s always been. If we are serious about becoming the disciples of Jesus we claim to be, and we ask God’s forgiveness for our offenses, and we hear Jesus’ words to the woman in the gospel spoken to us, “Go and from now on do not sin anymore,” we can’t just keep tripping into the same pothole every time.

We hear the words from the prophet Isaiah today, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new!” Our sins and faults are in the past. They need not weigh on us. But we need to learn from them if only to avoid repeating them. God wants to do something new and wonderful in our lives. St. Paul shows us a better attitude and focus. “It is not that I have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it. … Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus’ enemies were intent only to make him trip so they could justify their desire to get rid of him. Instead, Jesus put their hypocrisy and self-righteousness on display. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” That must have stung. God has no desire to condemn the sinner. But do we truly desire to become better human beings, better persons, and better Christians? Unless the pothole disappears, it will be exactly where it’s always been. But are we paying attention at all?

Rolo B Castillo © 2022