People love “change,” to the point that some seem enamored with change simply for the sake of change. The adherents of this cult of change seem more interested in the movement of change — whether personal, political or otherwise — than in a particular end. In contrast, today’s readings point to change that has purpose.
The prophet Isaiah addressed himself to those who had been exiled in Babylon. He spoke of a new exodus, a return to the promised land that would make citizens of those who had been exiled. But the new exodus would not be fulfilled merely by a change in location. It would require a change of heart. The past is past, said the prophet, and what is needed is a new perspective, rooted in faith in God’s will and guidance. “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” It requires spiritual vision and contemplation: “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” The focus must be on God and his divine plan — a plan requiring people to praise him in humility and holiness. Only then will people be filled with joy. This is an invitation to change by the only One who can truly change us.
This theme of looking forward to God’s gift of change is also in the Letter to the Philippians. Paul begins by setting the proper perspective: “I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Christ is the focus of true faith. And for what ultimate purpose? That we may share in Christ’s sufferings “by being conformed to his death,” so we can, by God’s power and grace, “attain the resurrection from the dead.” This is the drama of salvation, the divine change oriented to the fullness of divine life. “It is not that I have already taken hold of it,” wrote St. Paul, “or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it.”
Lent is a journey to Holy Week and the passion of Christ. In embracing that Passion, we enter into the paschal mystery of the suffering and death of Jesus. And thus we are united ever more intimately to the Lord. This death to self is the very essence of real freedom. “And to achieve this union with him,” wrote Thomas Merton, “this freedom based on true values and firm adhesion to God’s will, we must necessarily purge out of our hearts all attachment to false ego-centered values and all reliance on our own will. For there is no freedom in selfishness, only captivity.”
In today’s Gospel, the story of the woman caught in adultery, everyone, with the exception of Jesus, was a sinner. Not all, however, recognized this fact. The woman’s sin was obvious. She had been “caught,” without defense or defender. Or so it seemed.
The great irony is that those who wouldn’t admit their sins used the public sin of another sinner to pursue an equally grave, supposedly hidden sin: to trick and snare the innocent, blameless Christ. If Jesus let the woman live, he would be accused of spurning the Law. If he let her be stoned, he would have been mocked for ignoring the mercy he preached so strongly and consistently. His challenge was a piece of divine dynamite, dropped in their midst: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And, to the woman, he said, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
In other words, change your perspective. And be changed, by God’s grace.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.