Bottom line: Today we recognize that cancel culture in some form has always been with us and we see how Jesus responded to those who wanted to literally destroy the woman caught in adultery.
In our homily series on forgiveness I have referred to "cancel culture". Wikipedia defines cancel culture or call-out culture as "a contemporary phrase used to refer to a form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles - whether it be online, on social media, or in person." We have seen cancel culture, for example, in the "MeToo" movement.
Cancel culture takes different forms, but it is not new. When I was a child, a person could be ostracized and lose their job if someone discovered they had joined the communist party. That membership involved loyalty to Josef Stalin as the international leader of communism. Even if the membership ended years ago, the person could still face ostracism.
In today's Gospel we have a form of cancel culture. "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" We can see the dilemma. If Jesus takes the woman's side, they would accuse him of being soft on infidelity. So what does Jesus do? First, he writes something on the ground. There are many theories about what he wrote, but whatever it was, it stung the consciences of the accusers. Jesus says, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."
They leave one by one. Jesus is alone with the woman. As St. Augustine says, "There remained only two, 'misericordia et miseria' - divine mercy and human misery." At the conclusion of the 2016 Year of Mercy, Pope Francis wrote an Apostolic letter titled Misericordia et Miseria. He says, "Once clothed in mercy, even if the inclination to sin remains, it is overcome by the love that makes it possible for her to look ahead and to live her life differently."
When we experience Jesus' mercy, we can continue forward no matter what. St. Paul says, "I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." I know people who have lost everything because of an accusation or because of serious wrongdoing. Some become bitter, eager to justify themselves. St. Paul doesn't fall into that trap. Writing from a Roman jail Paul says, "For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God." Even though he is in prison, Paul is the freest man in the Roman Empire.
Now, a Roman jail would make the Monroe Prison look like the Honolulu Hilton. And, besides his confinement, Paul carried a heavy weight on his conscience. The movie, Paul the Apostle, depicted him remembering how he hunted Christians including innocent children. Although he considered himself "chief among sinners" he had hope based on Jesus' forgiveness: "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."
God's forgiveness enables us to focus on what lies ahead, not remain trapped in the past. We will see this liberating power next week as we celebrate Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.
Today we recognize that cancel culture in some form has always been with us and we see how Jesus responded to those who wanted to literally destroy the woman caught in adultery. Jesus enables us to look ahead. Even if the inclination to sin remains, in Jesus we can live differently. Forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead. Amen.
From Archives (Year C homilies for Third Sunday of Lent):
From Archives (Year A homilies for Third Sunday of Lent):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Kurt Nagel (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru