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Scripture In Depth
Fifth Sunday of Lent C
April 7, 2019
Reginald H. Fuller

Reading I: Isaiah 43:16-21

In Second Isaiah, the impending return from exile in Babylon is depicted as a new Exodus. The “former things” and the “things of old” refer to the first Exodus. This is now replaced by a “new thing,” the return from exile. In this new event the events of the first Exodus are repeated: “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

In Christian biblical theology, the proclamation of God’s act of salvation in Christ picks up the same imagery. The “new things” are now the death and resurrection of the Messiah, and the “drink” that God provides for his people consists of the sacraments of the new covenant.

Responsorial Psalm: 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6

The fourth stanza entitles us to apply the restoration of which the first and third stanzas speak and the “great things” of the second stanza to the death and resurrection of Christ:

He that goes forth weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

  “The metaphor of sowing in the Old Testament almost demanded a messianic application” (E. Hoskyns)

Reading II: Philippians 3:8-14

The third chapter of Philippians is a polemic against Paul’s opponents. Whether they were Judaizers, that is, advocates of imposing the Jewish law on Gentile converts, or some kind of syncretists or “enthusiasts” is not certain, but current exegesis is inclining toward the latter (so not only the German Lutheran Schmithals but also the German Catholic Gnilka).

As enthusiasts, these opponents would fondly imagine that through baptism they had “already attained” and were already perfect. Against their position Paul holds out his theologia crucis, not simply as an abstract doctrine but as a reality to which his whole life as an apostle is conformed.

Only by becoming like Christ in his death, only by sharing his suffering and by living under the “not yet,” can the Apostle know the power of Christ’s resurrection now, and eventually attain the resurrection when Christ returns.

Gospel: John 8:1-11

The pericope about the woman caught in adultery, it is now agreed by most scholars, is not part of the original text of John, though, of course, it is part of the canonical text and, as such, has been rightly restored from the margin in the RSV Common Bible.

The earliest manuscripts either omit it or place it somewhere else. Some place it after Lk 21:38, which is an interesting interpolation, for the story has a definitely Lucan ring.

Despite its late attestation, it is certainly a very early and good tradition. Professor Bruce Metzger’s verdict in his textual commentary is that it “has all the earmarks of historical veracity.”

The Swedish New Testament scholar Harald Riesenfeld has offered an interesting explanation of why this story went underground, so to speak, for such a long time. It happened, he thinks, during the period when Church authorities were trying to enforce a strict discipline over Christian marriages. The story seemed at that time to encourage laxity in marriage standards.

Actually, this was a false impression. After all, Jesus did say to the woman, “Go, and do not sin again.” He recognized sin as sin. And in saying, “Neither do I condemn you,” he was not condoning the sin but pronouncing the forgiveness of God.

The scribes and Pharisees, however, come in for sharper condemnation and are put to shame. None of them could claim to be without sin. This is a pictorial illustration of Jesus’ saying, “Judge not, that you may not be judged” (Mt 7:1).

Reginald H. Fuller
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Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 414-415.

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