Making it All Better

Sunday April 3, 2022, The Fifth Sunday of Lent (Cycle C)

The tie in between today’s readings: Restoration

Psalm 126:1-6Isaiah 43:16-21Philippians 3:8-14John 8:1-11

There is a big difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline’s purpose is for training in order to achieve a more correct behavior. It focuses on the person with an attitude of love and concern. God, our Father, disciplines His children for example. Discipline ends with restoration and a new start for all parties involved. Punishment is much different. It is totally hind sighted. It is reciprocation springing from wrongs suffered: an eye for an eye. The statement that, God the Righteous Judge, will punish the wicked in hell, shows that punishment ends the relationship with the balancing of the scales. There is no coming back. That’s why comic book character, Frank Castle is called the “Punisher” and not the “Disciplinarian”. Today’s readings highlight two different episodes of God’s loving discipline and restoration.

After many years of lip service religion and outright disobedience, the nation of Judah finally achieved a truly difficult milestone. They wore God out. Prophet after prophet came time after time with the same message from the Almighty, “Don’t make Me come down there!” Apparently, they weren’t going to be happy until they got their comeuppance which came in the form of the total destruction of Jerusalem and a one-way ticket to Babylon. But there was a glimmer of hope recorded by the prophet Jeremiah in Lamentation: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassion does not fail” (Lamentations 3:22). Here the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob graciously holds out the promise that there will again be a “someday” for them. They were, after all, still His children. He sat them in the corner of Babylonian exile for seventy years and now it’s time to come home.

There is a special joy in restoring a relationship. We see it in a loving parent’s hugs and kisses for their crying child after a time out, the junkie returning to an understanding and supporting home post rehab, or the makeup sex that follows a young couple’s quarrel. It’s the cheers after the tears. With God, it is no different. In Isaiah 43:16-21, one of today’s readings, the Lord in a great gesture of “Welcome Home” comforts His children with a forgiving “forget about it!” then goes further in a parent’s excitement to describe the “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!” fantastic future that He planned for them. Psalm 126 responds with “pinch me I must be dreaming” excitement when God performed the miracle of bringing His exiles back to Jerusalem to rebuild. Joyful shouts and crying gladness filled their hearts as well as the streets when the walls of Zion were completed. With one tough job finished, they looked forward to the next challenge of restoring the Temple. They proceeded with confident optimism because God was with them and the joy of the Lord was their strength.

At the beginning of today’s gospel reading in John 8:1-11, Jesus is teaching in the temple. Suddenly, a loud commotion erupts. The street crowd parts in an undulating wave to allow a cluster of harden men to pass. A mob gathers behind them as if drawn by a magnet. A young woman’s panic-stricken screams grow louder as they approach the Master. Two husky brutes break past those who are standing there and throw the crying girl to the ground at His feet. Her scantily clad body adds to her humiliation as she looks up at Jesus from her hands and knees. She is shaking. She is exposed. And she is terrified. An older man, a Pharisee, accuses her of adultery and demands a death sentence judgment from Jesus as he points to her quivering frame with a righteous boney finger. Jesus understands their trap. For adultery, the Law of Moses requires stoning to death for the woman and the man, who in this case apparently got away. But, being subjugated people at this time, only a Roman judge could authorize an execution. Jesus seems to be between a rock and a hard place. Obey the scripture and face Roman wrath or dismiss their charges and be branded a hypocrite. He, however, is more concerned about this poor daughter of Abraham, who’s next intimate contact could very well be with a fatal shower of Palestinian landscape. Fortunately, Jesus has a finger all His own. He gets down on the ground next to her and writes in the dirt. Pressing Him for an answer, Jesus straightens up and challenges the most moral among them to throw the first stone. She flattens and shrieks. Covering her head and puddling the dust with her tears, she waits for her imminent pummeling. Nothing happens. Jesus gets back to the dirt and continues to write. The accusers themselves become convicted and leave one by one along with the crowd. Show’s over. Jesus lifts the young girl up. She is overwhelmed by her escape and barely comprehends His question. “Where are your accusers?”

“They…they are gone, Lord.” she replies, astonished.

“I don’t condemn you, either.” Then Jesus added, “Go and sin no more.”

More tears, more sobs as the young woman turns to disappear back into the indifferent crowd that would have just as soon seen her dead as alive. But these are now her tears of joy, of relief, of mercy received and restoration given. Her time had not yet come and because of the love of her Messiah, whose own time was fast approaching, she was determined and able to make a new future.

The Apostle Paul picks up this theme of restoration with a personal note in Philippians 3:8-14. He notes, as good as he may be from man’s point of view, it’s not worth Jack in his standing before God. He can never be good enough for heaven. So, he gives up on his own merits and, by faith, takes Jesus’ righteousness offered by God through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. Jesus is the key to the contradictory image we may have of a God who holds a club over our heads and at the same times says, “Don’t you know that I love you?” Having had his punishment removed by the blood of Christ, the Apostle can own his imperfections and leave the guilt of them behind. He can, as a child of God, focus toward the future and the Lord’s upward calling for him. With guidance and discipline from above, he will achieve it. This offer of salvation and restoration is for you also. Come to the cross. Come clean. Leave reconciled. Forget the past. Move forward. You ain’t seen nuthin yet!

2 thoughts on “Making it All Better

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