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Fifth Sunday of Lent

Know Yourself

Researchers have recently discovered that honesty makes for good relationships. If you are honest and objective about yourself, you will tend to have more success in relationships than those who are false and deluded. I hope that these findings will come as no great surprise to you. Humility and honesty are key virtues in sustaining any relationship, and in particular those which are most intimate and loving.

Lack of self-awareness can result either from our having too elevated an opinion of ourselves, or from low self-esteem. In both cases we are unable to esteem our own true worth. We are also unable to judge others with any degree of objectivity; the proud see others as beneath them and the dejected have their eyes fixed on the ground, unable to look up for fear they may offend.

In today's Gospel a woman caught in adultery is brought to Jesus by the Scribes and Pharisees. In their pride and arrogance they look down upon this women. She is contemptible, they see her as nothing, a life to be thrown away in their war against Jesus. They stand over the woman, judging and condemning from their position of moral superiority.

Although at first Jesus does not directly engage with them, his act of bending down is a symbolic act of humility, reminding them of the humility they lack. His action of writing in the dust has been interpreted in various ways, but perhaps it is a second symbolic act of humility. Through his word God created us from the dust of the earth. Jesus writes in the dust to remind the scribes and pharisees that they are nothing without the creative and redeeming power of God's Word.

Through his actions Christ has show the Scribes and the Pharisees the truth about themselves, but they fail to understand. Now his words bring that reluctant truth home. It is the eldest who first react, for they are closer to the reality of mortality and the judgement of God.

Whereas the Scribes and the Pharisees have looked down upon the woman, Jesus after addressing them bends down again, and it is from this lowly position that he addresses the woman. Jesus Christ chooses to lower himself so that he can look up to those who are lowly. His lowering here is a further symbolic act. On the Cross he will be brought to the very depths of indignity, so that looking up to his Heavenly Father he will raise all those who repent of their sins. The woman has committed a serious sin, but Jesus does not condemn her; rather his loving mercy brings the possibility of new life, 'go away, and don't sin any more.' He will lower himself upon the Cross, not to condemn the world but to bring new life.

In contrast to the woman, whom Jesus commands to go and sin no longer, the Scribes and the Pharisees are given no such promise of new life. For the moment Jesus has brought them low. It is not clear, however, that this lowering is a permanent lesson or merely an annoying episode. Perhaps for some it will be a changing point in their lives. For others it may soon forgotten before the arrogance of old reasserts itself. They had sought to lower the woman to the dust by stoning her. Now that they have been humbled by Jesus, will they accept his words and recognise them as the gift of eternal life, or reject them and condemn themselves to the dust?

Both the woman and those who condemn her have a lack of self-awareness. In both cases this lack of self-knowledge prevents them from entering into loving human relationships. The woman is caught up in a relationship which is beneath her dignity; whereas the Scribes and the Pharisees see the woman as an object in their power game with Jesus. For both truth and honesty are needed if they are to enter into loving relationships.

It is Jesus Christ who opens the path to self-knowledge. Through his Cross he teaches us to see the truth about ourselves. He lowers himself so that those who are proud can receive the gift of humility, and he raises the humble so that those who lack a sense of worth can see their true dignity as children of God.

 

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