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Father Sund: Conversion means focusing on Jesus’ love and mercy

“‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She replied, ‘No one, sir.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin any more.’” – Jn 8:10-11

This Gospel passage shows a powerful image of the mercy of Jesus. He offers the woman mercy while calling her to conversion. When we encounter the living Lord, this response is freeing and life-giving. Often, when our faults confront us through another, we can become defensive.

Focus on the gaze of Jesus. When he calls us to conversion it is not in condemnation, it’s in an embracing and liberating love.

We do not hear about what happened later in this woman’s life. We can look to the lives of 2,000 years’ worth of Christian disciples and make a sound hypothesis that Christ transformed her life for the better.

The focus of Lent is conversion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it as “a radical reorientation of our whole life” away from sin and evil, and toward God (no. 1431). This woman goes away converted. As she departs from Jesus, she is not concentrating on her sin, but on a new life to come.

Notice the contrast. The scribes and Pharisees who walk away are focused on their sins. In Jesus’s act of mercy toward this woman, she is the one who walks away with far greater righteousness than any of the teachers and elders who sought her life.

During the season of Lent, Jesus invites us to receive the same mercy the woman accepted. Often we can make this routine and forget the greatness of what is taking place. A far greater pitfall is that we walk away from confession more like the elders than the woman. We receive the mercy of Jesus Christ yet remain focused on our past and failings.

After he says those beautiful words, “I absolve you of your sins ...,” the priest may say to us the very words of Christ in his person: “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more!” These are not words of rebuke, but words of mercy, words of conversion.

Many who are reading this may have received forgiveness for sins committed decades ago and confessed and forgiven decades ago. Jesus Christ wants us to have freedom, not shame. Conversion means that our hearts have been washed clean and made whiter than snow (Ps 51:7). This means that when you watch Jesus write in the sand, he is not writing your sins. No, he writes your name: the person who through his grace and mercy is indeed a child of God!

Father Joseph Sund is associate pastor of St. Patrick Parish in O’Neill.

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