In our parishes this weekend those preparing for entry into the Catholic Church, the Elect, will be going through the third scrutiny. The history of the scrutinies goes back beyond the council of Nicaea, so it is an ancient ritual of the church. The process is for the individual and the community of faith to review the quality of a person and their worthiness to be a member of the body of believers. . Paul in his letter to Timothy said, “…do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin” (1 Tim. 5:22).
The entire process of preparing a person to be an ordained minister of the church is another place where there is a process of scrutiny. So it seems we are very good at looking at the sins of others and making judgments about their worthiness. We do this as a normal practice in daily life by judging family, friends, co-workers and people we barely know. I am not being critical of this ancient process of the scrutinies it is just the word scrutiny sounds very judgmental. There is in each of us something that causes us to want to hide from the prying eyes of others.
Today the gospel for the scrutinies is the story of Lazarus and all other masses will hear the gospel of the woman caught in adultery. In each of these gospel stories I hear a message of how God views our sin and the penalty to be paid for our sinful nature. If you pay attention to the way God views us you will see he never looks at sin and rejects us. Instead his view of sin is to heal us of it and cover it with his glory.
The totality of the scriptures is very clear in showing us how we allow sin to separate us from God. We see it in the story of Adam and Even when they hide from God because of their sin. They not only hid from God but their nakedness and vulnerability to sin suddenly become evident to them. Their reaction to that discovery was to cover or hide their nakedness. Today we hide ours with righteousness.
Sin in our lives we believe condemns us and it is an insurmountable barrier between us and God. God acknowledges this posture of ours and tells us through the Prophet Isaiah that sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:2). We know all too well how true that prophecy is so instead of allowing God to embrace us and forgive us we like Adam and Eve hide from God. Instead of hiding from God we need to go to him because his approach to sin is to remove it from us without penalty.
Jesus came to earth to deal with the penalty and the separation of sin. He came to show us God’s approach to our sins. So in both gospels we see Jesus dealing with sin and the feeling of condemnation because of our sin. Sin is revealed as the work of evil trying to destroy our relationship with God. Yes we succumb to the temptations evil throws at us but Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sin and to pave the way for the Spirit transforming us into holy men and women.
God does not see our sin or smell the stench of our sin; instead he sees the sons and daughters whom he yearns to hold and embrace. ”Is there no one here to condemn you” he asks the woman? Then neither do I are the words he speaks but those words are written to us, spoken to her but written for us. This is God speaking to us in a parable to show us how his love is greater than our sin. His forgiveness is unfathomable because we know how guilty we are just as she was guilty.
This is the mercy of God and the approach to our failings shown to us in the actions of his Son. God has always treated sin that way. Just after he tells us through his prophet Isaiah that sin separates us from him, he says these remarkable words “…your guilt is purged and your sin forgiven” (Isa. 59:6). God acknowledges the impact of sin and then shows us how nothing will separate his love from us.
The crowd holding their stones to hurl at her knew her sin and they judged her guilty. God shows us how he deals with the penalty of sin; he sent us Jesus. Yet we must respond to the gift we have been given. That woman shows us how when she acknowledges her response is to “…live a life worthy of the calling we have received; understanding the riches of his glory and the power at work among us who believe” (Eph. 1:18-19).
Martha meeting Jesus as he approached Bethany says to Jesus, Lord if you had been here he would not have died. Throughout the story of Lazarus are words dealing with the promise of God that all who believe will live. The Lazarus story is another story about the glory of God dealing with the things we would rather not have others see and things we hide from God. Roll back the stone, Jesus says, and you will see the glory of God.
The stones are powerful symbols in both of these gospel stories.
We like the crowd both hold stones waiting to hurl them at those we have judged as unworthy and we cover our own sin with a huge stone. You and I are in these stories. We judge ourselves unworthy of God’s love and by doing so we kill our chances to be embraced by Jesus The woman is a symbol of how we can totally change by allowing the work of Jesus to free us from the penalty of our sin. It is a story of us forgiving and accepting forgiveness.
The stone in the front of the tomb is a symbol of an obstacle that prevents us from seeing the glory of God in our lives. We keep that stone in place so others will not see the rot of sin in our lives. In reality it prevents us from being freed from all that keeps us from work of Jesus to bring us life. At this time, as we approach Easter, we need to roll back the stone we have used to hide our sinful self behind and allow Jesus to remove the barrier between ourselves and being freed from sin and the penalty of sin.