Our journey through the desert becomes one of new birth, the discovery of new life where no life existed before, the hope that comes from putting the past behind us so that we are free to enter into a new life of water and the spirit.
No matter how bleak things may look, the Lord promises that a new beginning is possible. We must remember the covenant and all the things that Lord has done for us in the past, but we must also remember that our relationship with God is dynamic. We must be open to the ever-changing ways of salvation the Lord may have planned for our future.
Isaiah tells the people of Israel: “Remember not the events of the past, / the things of long ago consider not; / see, I am doing something new.” Newness is always both exciting and a bit frightening. Much depends on how invested we are in the status quo.
In the Gospel, Jesus’ opponents base their accusation on the Law of Moses. They have codified the way people relate to each other and the way they relate to God. Misinterpreted and misused, the lifegiving Law had become a limited and limiting desert of impersonal regulations. They don’t see a woman before them, only a broken law.
We are told that Jesus comes to this confrontation after spending the night at the Mount of Olives, perhaps grappling with his own human weakness in the face of his inevitable suffering and death. Out of the most basic core of his humanity, coupled with his identity as God’s son, he suggests a radical new law of compassion.
I like to think that Jesus’ tracing in the sand may have reminded the people of the deserts where they themselves have wandered and strayed from the Lord. The crowd has gathered as a solid group, secure in the rigid institutionalism of their interpretation of the Law. But they drift away one by one as they confront the weaknesses in their own lives from which no institution can protect them. What they miss by leaving Jesus, however, is the forgiveness and compassion he offers to the woman.
Such a radical change compels us to be open to the possibility of new starts, of putting the past behind us and accepting forgiveness for ourselves and others. The woman stays because she knows that Jesus and the refreshing changes he brings are her only hope for something better. She has nothing to lose. Those who left in their guilt, those who believed they had everything to lose, ultimately killed Jesus and rejected his law of compassion. But death could not confine the life force that would make everything new.
Today’s Gospel asks us to choose where we will stand: with the woman, open to the new life Jesus has to offer; or with her accusers, confused and frustrated by Jesus’ openness. The challenge of the Gospel is always to be willing to be open to Jesus as God’s Word.
As we approach the final week of Lent, that spiritual stakes are high. We journey through Lent as a community of faith, but at some point in the journey, we each are called to spend time alone with Jesus, hearing him speak to us the words he spoke to the woman in today’s Gospel: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on do not sin anymore.”