Who remembers last Sunday's Gospel? Of course, you do, it was the parable of the prodigal son. This week's Gospel is remarkably similar, the story of a woman caught in the act of adultery.
- Each Gospel presents a sinner - a bad sinner.
A son who insults his father by asking for his inheritance before the father dies and then wastes it on a life of debauchery; a woman caught in the act of being unfaithful to her husband.
- Each presents an accuser - heartless accusers.
An elder brother who would have preferred his younger brother to have stayed lost; some 'far-from-perfect' Pharisees out to trick Jesus and eager to stone a woman.
- Each presents a judge - a judge who stands for God.
The father of the two boys who is all understanding towards his wayward son, and Jesus, the Son of God, who came not to judge but to save.
In this shootout between the warring parties Jesus and the father stand back to back brandishing their weapons - compassion, mercy, love, forgiveness. They seem to be attacked from all sides.
Both sons would like their father to treat them as he would a servant or slave - the one because he believes he has lost the right to called son and the other because he preferred being an obedient slave to a loving son.
The elder would like to see the younger punished as a debauchee while the Scribes and Pharisees want the woman punished as an adulteress.
The elder son is unable to see his own failure to live properly as a son of his father. The Scribes and Pharisees are unable to see themselves as the hypocrites they really are.
The elder son, for all his self-proclaimed righteousness, refuses to go in to the banquet to celebrate with his brother and father. The Scribes and Pharisees, for all their self-proclaimed righteousness, went away from Jesus, the Lord of Life, one by one.
Only the vagrant son, the one who recognises his sin, ends up being with the father in the feast, while it is the adulteress who is left alone, in the company of Jesus, her sins forgiven. Truly the first will be last and the last first.
So where does all this leave us?
I think it leaves us standing before Jesus who wants to hear from us.
Do we say to him: Jesus, I am a good person. I go to Mass every Sunday, I keep all the commandments, I fast and pray. I really think I deserve to go to heaven.
Or do we say: Jesus, even though I go to Mass every Sunday, even though I try to keep the commandments I am still a sinner. I have failed so often in my life, in small ways and in big ways, that I've given up all hope of ever being anything but a sinner. Have mercy on me, Jesus.
- Ask yourself how long it is since you've seriously examined your conscience.
That will tell you how important you think it is to be conscious of sin.
- Ask yourself how long it is since you've been to confession.
That will tell you how aware you are of your sins, and the enormity of every sin, even the ones that are not mortal sins.
- Ask yourself what your three main sins are and see how long it takes you to answer.
That will tell you how in touch you are with yourself.
- Ask yourself when was the last time you judged others or gossiped about them, or thought nastily about them.
That will tell you how good you think you are since we only judge those we believe to be worse than ourselves.
It's an amazing thing, you know, that there are so many people who tell me about how good they are and therefore don't need to go to confession. Some of them have not been to confession for 40 years or even more because they believe they have nothing to confess.
Jesus said (Mtt 9:13): And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.
We all have venial sins, sins which wound our relationship with God and others and self. We need forgiveness for these.
If you are in mortal sin you are lost; you are dead like the son of whom the father said: this son of mine was dead ... he was lost. If the young son's only recourse was to return to his father and admit his sin your only remedy is a good confession to a priest. There we will find the loving Father's forgiveness and a return to life.