“All things work together for good of those who love God (Rom 8:28). Yes, even sin.”
-St Augustine of Hippo
One of the messianic roles of Jesus is to serve as a gathering force. The Messiah was supposed to “gather the scattered tribes of Israel” and to be the one who fulfills the promise to Abraham and prophetic role of Israel: “through [whom] all nations shall find blessing.” This was fulfilled by Jesus through proclaiming the Kingdom of God where no one is outcast, not even the leper, the public sinner, the children, the prostitutes nor the tax collectors. Moreover, this gathering force of Jesus is expressed beautifully in His passion, death and resurrection of which He said: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself (Jn 12:32).” And it is specifically through the cross by which the divided world has been conquered and became one family. It is through the message and power of the cross whereby all reconciliations are possible, where all divisions, grudges and wounds of separation are healed.
We must remember that the word “Church” is taken from the Greek “Ekklesia” which means a gathering. Moreover, one of the marks of the Church is that of being Catholic or universal which refers to its nature of embracing people of all times and places and even embracing the whole creation. One of the biblical origins of the word devil as the adversary of God is “ho diabolos” from “diabalein” which means to throw apart. It can thus be proposed that the worst consequence of sin is division and separation. It separates us from our true selves, from the rest of humanity and ultimately from God, the source of all unity. Hence, we can understand the earnestness of the Priestly Prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane for the Church, for all those who will believe in Him: “that they may be one, Father, as you and I are one.”
Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery in today’s Gospel invites us to reflect on our response to the divisive power of sin. He did not let sin and the death it brings to separate the woman from His love and from the rest of the community. He did not extend his hand to cast a stone but rather used it to lift her up. He extended his hands never to accuse but always to heal, to gather, to bless and to embrace, exemplified to the outmost when He spread His arms on the cross to embrace all sinners. In the First Reading, we see Yahweh making a way in the desert and rivers in the wasteland, so that He may form a people for Himself. The Psalm is the song of joy of the Israelites when they were brought back by the Lord from their exile. On the Second Reading, St Paul considers everything as nothing compared to the supreme good of knowing Jesus Christ, a knowledge which brings all our difference and everything that may divide us into naught. He also exhorts us have a right relationship with God, a righteousness that surpasses mere adherence or disobedience to moral laws.
We must get rid of a relationship with God that has a tendency to regard ourselves as better than others. For true religion is not really about being the chosen few, or becoming the elect. Religion comes from the word “religare” which means “to bind people together.” Heaven is in being together whereas hell is in being separated because of our selfishness. In being together, our sorrows are divided while our joys are multiplied. One can thus see why the worst sin in the gospel story is not lust but rather pride—that comes from self-righteousness—that shuts us off from God and others, feeling we don’t need them. Thus, being holy is being an agent of togetherness. It lies in acknowledgment of our frailty, of our incompleteness, of our brokenness, and thus we go to Jesus and towards our brothers and sisters to be healed and to be whole. In Jesus, we can see that even in the brokenness of man, the presence of God can be revealed by returning good for evil.
The face of the Son of God is revealed in forgiveness. Hence, we can see how asking for forgiveness and forgiving one another serve as a gathering power. For as Horace Bushnell said, “Forgiveness is man’s deepest need and highest achievement.” Indeed, what would heaven be to us if we are not together? What would heaven be to us if we are alone?
God is calling us to be an Ecclesiastes: one who convokes a gathering. We must always struggle for togetherness, no matter what our differences, our weaknesses, and our beliefs. For God has decreed that “neither death, nor life, neither principalities nor powers, neither present nor the future, neither the heights nor depths will be able to separate us from the love of God which comes to us through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 8:38-39).”
1st Reading: Is 43:16-21
Ps 126: 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
2nd Reading: Phil 3:8-14
Gospel: Jn 8:1-11