"Go away and don't sin any more"

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent Year C

by Fr. Tommy Lane

What a contrast between the cruelty of the scribes and Pharisees and the compassion of Jesus in our Gospel (John 8:1-11). The scribes and Pharisees had no regard for the woman. They were only interested in using her to try to trap Jesus. She was a pawn in their game of chess. They had no regard for the fact that maybe she did not initiate the sin, perhaps it was the man. But Jesus is full of compassion. He restored the woman again, in two ways. He restored her spiritually by forgiving her, telling her he did not condemn her, while also insisting that she not sin again, and he restored her to society by saving her life. No one knows what Jesus wrote on the ground but some people suspect Jesus wrote the sins of the scribes and Pharisees. Notice also that it was the eldest who went away first. The eldest had committed more sins, those who had lived longer had more to be sorry about in their own lives. The woman received forgiveness from Jesus and also received her life back again.

Notice Jesus’ last words to the woman, “go away and don’t sin any more.” (John 8:11) Although Jesus has forgiven her sin he expects her to live a life of grace and union with God from now on by not sinning any more. Jesus doesn’t say that sin does not matter because sin does matter and damages our relationship with God. So Jesus says, “go away and don’t sin any more.” When we receive Jesus’ forgiveness he expects us to live as new people afterwards. That is precisely the attitude with which we are to come to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It would make no sense to come to confess our sins if we intended to continue committing the same sins again. In weakness we may commit the same sin again but as we come to confession if we do not intend to amend our lives then surely we cannot say that we are truly sorry for our sins. Surely we can only genuinely say that we are truly sorry for our sins if we have a firm intention not to commit sin again.

If we could see into our souls and see the damage our sin causes to our souls and to the whole Church we would flee from committing sin. I will read an excerpt of a letter written by Jacques Fesch to his mother before his execution which took place by guillotine in France on 1st October 1957. The 27 year old was beheaded for the murder of a police officer shortly after he bungled an armed robbery three years earlier (February 25th 1954). He underwent a conversion experience while on death row and the publication of his letters touched many, especially young people. Cardinal Lustiger of Paris signed a decree that may one day see Jacques Fesch declared “Blessed.” This is part of Jacques Fesch’s letter,

“This execution which frightens you is nothing compared to what awaits sinners in the next world. It is not for me you should weep but for sinners who offend God. As for me I am happy Jesus is calling me to himself and great graces have been given me. If you could only taste for a single instant the sweetness of the transports of divine love and could realize the absolute gravity of the slightest offence. God must come first, do not forget it. He calls you and believes in you, you are rich in his love. Many souls are linked with yours and you will have an account to render. You must go to Christ without whom you can do nothing. If you seek him you will find him. But you must seek him with all your heart. Above all do not seek your own will but his.”

As I said, if we could see into our souls and see the damage our sin causes to our souls and to the whole Church we would flee from committing sin and Jacques Fesch’s letter reminds us of the horror of sin.

Jesus said to the woman not to sin again and since sin is so horrible and horrific we need to take steps to ensure that we do not sin again because otherwise we will gradually drift again into the same sin. The first step to take is deal with where all sin begins, the mind. Among the Native Americans there is a story of a father who said there were two wolves fighting within him, one bad and one good. His son asked which wolf wins and the father said whichever one he feeds the most. Sin begins in the mind. We need to fill our minds with what is good instead of with rubbish. It is media in all forms, in TV and so many other ways, that are filling our minds with the bad stuff that leads us on to sin. Sin begins in the mind, from there it moves on to become an action, from there it moves on to become a lifestyle, and then it affects us in eternity. Jesus said not to sin again. We need to begin by feeding our minds with what is good instead of with rubbish. In the second reading today we see Paul filling himself only with Jesus and cutting out all rubbish from his life,

“I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For him I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him.
All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…” (Phil 3:8-10)

Earlier in the same letter Paul said, “Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:5) In another letter New Testament letter we read,

“Since you have been raised up to be with Christ, you must look for the things that are above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on things above, not on the things that are on the earth.” (Col 3:1-2)

Among the Native Americans there is a story of a father who said there were two wolves fighting within him, one bad and one good. His son asked which wolf wins and the father said whichever one he feeds the most. Jesus said, “go away and don’t sin any more.” (John 8:11)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Fifth Sunday of Lent Year C

Will we be transformed at the end of Lent? - Go and sin no more 2010

Do not throw stones at others - Jesus forgives you, do not sin again 2013

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