Thus says the LORD,
who opens a way in the sea
and a path in the mighty waters,
who leads out chariots and horsemen,
a powerful army,
till they lie prostrate together, never to rise,
snuffed out and quenched like a wick.
Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
In the desert I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers.
Wild beasts honor me,
jackals and ostriches,
for I put water in the desert
and rivers in the wasteland
for my chosen people to drink,
the people whom I formed for myself,
that they might announce my praise.
Brothers and sisters:
I consider everything as a loss
because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things
and I consider them so much rubbish,
that I may gain Christ and be found in him,
not having any righteousness of my own based on the law
but that which comes through faith in Christ,
the righteousness from God,
depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection
and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death,
if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
It is not that I have already taken hold of it
or have already attained perfect maturity,
but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it,
since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, I for my part
do not consider myself to have taken possession.
Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind
but straining forward to what lies ahead,
I continue my pursuit toward the goal,
the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area,
and all the people started coming to him,
and he sat down and taught them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery
and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him,
“Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“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.”
Though scholars are convinced today’s gospel passage originally wasn’t included in our Christian Scriptures – that’s why modern translations often relegate it to the footnotes – it still contains a key tenent of our faith: we should forgive others because we’ve first been forgiven. Perhaps it’s one of those stories that Fiddler on the Roof’s Tevye includes in his statement, “If it isn’t in the Good Book, it should be there.” Compared to our first two readings, it doesn’t need much explanation.
On the other hand, both our Deutero-Isaiah pericope and Paul’s Philippians verses open the door to reflecting on things we often overlook.
I encountered a woman once who assured me she’d been saved; even provided me the exact date on which the event happened. Though I envied her certainty, I don’t know Deutero-Isaiah and Paul would agree with her extreme confidence. Both regard God’s working in their lives as an ongoing process. As long as we breathe, it’s never over.
This is especially clear in Deutero-Isaiah. Though they rarely show up in translations, he constantly employs participles in order to show God’s ongoing work in our lives. For instance, the first verse of today’s passage literally reads, “Opening a path in the mighty waters . . . leading out chariots and horsemen.” What Yahweh once did, Yahweh continues to do. The exiled Israelites to whom he prophesized, presumed Yahweh’s glory days were far behind him/her. One of the prophet’s objectives is to demonstrate those special days are still happening, even during his audience’s lifetime.
That insight leads to one of Scripture’s most powerful verses. “Remember not,” Yahweh insists, “the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” True prophets can’t depict Yahweh by pinning a still photograph to the wall. If your Yahweh’s not moving and constantly doing new things, it’s not Yahweh. You’ve been given the wrong bill of sales.
Yet Paul of Tarsus is not only convinced that Yahweh moves, he assures us that those who follow the risen Christ also move. His discipleship forces him to go from one stage of life to another, all the time becoming more one with the person he imitates, until he eventually attains the new life Jesus has attained.
In one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture, the Apostle admits to something that the already saved woman I encountered never seems to have experienced. “It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.”
For other Christs, there’s always another door to open, one more road to travel, a new person to encounter. My Grandpa once shared a bit of his years of experience with me. He warned, “the day you have nothing to do is the day you die.” The older I get, the more I appreciate his advice, though through the years I’ve discovered it’s hard not to die before I die.
Perhaps that’s why it’s important to understand what Paul means by having been “possessed” by Christ. Of course he wants to possess his resurrection, but he realizes that before he can pull that off, he must first share in “his sufferings by being conformed to his death.” If Christ possesses him, it’s only because Christ has taught him to die. That’s why the two passion narratives which will be proclaimed next week on Passion Sunday and Good Friday are so important. If we don’t know how he dies, we won’t know how we’re to die. We might end up saved, but never “possessed.”