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Breath of the Spirit
Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.
Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.
In today’s situation - the woman taken in adultery - the evangelist is convinced that such encounters were happening in his day and age, encounters demanding the same response to sin and forgiveness that Jesus gave during his earthly ministry. Whenever we’re called upon to deal with sinners, we’re never to forget that each of us is also a sinner: someone in need of forgiveness, not condemnation. Salvation never ends
MARCH 13, 2016: FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT
One of the problems we encounter reading Deutero-Isaiah in English is that we miss the prophet’s frequent use of participles. Already in middle school we learned the difference between a finite verb and a participle. When, for instance, I say, “I went to the store,” the verb “went” closes the action. It’s over with. On the other hand, if I say, “Going to the store,” the action continues. You’re waiting to hear what’s going to happen while I’m going to the store. The participle “going” presumes the action’s continuing.
A better translation (maintaining the original Hebrew participles) of today’s Deutero-Isaiah’s first lines would be: “Thus says Yahweh opening a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters, leading out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army . . . .”
Speaking to a people who’ve been exiled for over 50 years, the prophet is forced to deal with their “we’ve seen or heard it all before” frame of mind. Yahweh’s wonderful acts of salvation had taken place centuries before. In the captives’ minds, Yahweh’s isn’t doing anything right here and now to get us out of Babylon. That’s where Deutero-Isaiah’s participles kick in. He’s convinced that what Yahweh has done for Yahweh’s people, Yahweh continues to do. The action’s still going on; it’s never over. God’s saving the Israelites in Babylon during the 530s BCE just as God saved the Israelites in Egypt during the 1200s BCE.
In some sense, this theology of God’s constant salvation is also behind today’s gospel pericope. Our sacred authors never thought of themselves as historians: people dedicated just to maintaining records of the past so future people would know what happened back then. On the contrary, if parallel things weren’t happening in the day and age of our biblical writers, they would have never narrated them in their various works. They were only concerned about the past because it was being mirrored in the present.
In today’s situation - the woman taken in adultery - the evangelist is convinced that such encounters were happening in his day and age, encounters demanding the same response to sin and forgiveness that Jesus gave during his earthly ministry. Whenever we’re called upon to deal with sinners, we’re never to forget that each of us is also a sinner: someone in need of forgiveness, not condemnation. Salvation never ends.
That’s why today’s Philippians passage is so important. Paul understands that nowhere in our history of salvation is salvation ever completely achieved. One of my favorite biblical lines is the Apostle’s realization, “It is not that I have already taken hold of (the resurrection), or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.” Once we chose to let the risen Jesus take over our lives, salvation never ends. It’s present in everything we do, everyone we encounter, every new day we experience.
If our dying and rising with Jesus continues, so also our salvation continues.
It’s a shame some of us learned our faith in such a way that we long to return and participate in the “golden age” of that faith: the ministry of the historical Jesus. We keep forgetting that no one who personally knew the historical Jesus ever passed on anything about him that we can access today. All our Christian biblical authors – including the four evangelists - knew only the risen Jesus. They could only pass on a “participial” faith.
Perhaps our middle school religion teachers should have put as much emphasis on that, as our middle school English teachers put on diagraming a sentence.