Know Christ: The Fifth Sunday of Lent


Central idea: Christ is gracious and merciful. Doctrine: The surpassing wealth of knowing Christ. Practical application: Know Christ better.

To view Lectionary 36, click here.

Central idea: Christ is gracious and merciful

Reading 1 Is 43:16-21

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.

  • Water can destroy and it can give life. It can be a curse or a blessing.
  • Isaiah recalls the great liberating event of the past: Israel’s escape from Egypt through the parted Red Sea which then engulfed Pharaoh’s army, destroying it.
  • Then Isaiah prophesizes something new. I think it is the waters of Baptism. Without grace we are like desert lands. The waters of Baptism make us supernaturally alive and purify and elevate our natural powers. They make possible a proper relationship with God.

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

R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,
we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.

Then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad indeed.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those that sow in tears
shall reap rejoicing.

Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.

  • A remnant of the Jews were freed from slavery and returned to Israel. They were indeed glad. But still there were troubles: the hard work of earning their bread by the sweat of their brows.
  • Life can be a constant process of sorrow and joy, problems and solutions, sin and forgiveness.
  • Life can also be joy to a sorrow which does not depart; problems without solutions; sin and hardening into more sin, and even calling sin good.
  • The souls in heaven completely identify with this psalm. They went forth weeping at birth, experienced all the difficulties of life and the final anguish of death, and now rejoice like men dreaming, with the abundant harvest of eternal life and the vision of God. They all say, “The Lord has done great things for us.”
  • The woman caught in adultery also experienced this redemption: she was brought to Christ weeping, carrying the burden of her sin, of her guilt, of the intense disapproval of the scribes and Pharisees, and of her intense fear of what was going to be done to her, even of being stoned to death. Her tears upon her release were tears of joy.

Reading 2 Phil 3:8-14

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.

  • In our first reading, Isaiah said, in effect, forget the past and look at the new thing God is doing.
  • Paul says something similar. “[F]orgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead” in pursuit of “the supreme good,” which is “knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.”
  • We can see echoed here the parable of the man who found a treasure buried in a field who sold everything he had to buy that field.
  • Paul considers everything else “as rubbish,” because union with Christ is the greatest prize, a treasure which includes “the resurrection from the dead.”
  • What does Paul mean in demeaning “all things”?
    • I don’t think Paul means that creation is actually worthless. Creation comes from the hand of the Creator and so it is good. But when we compare creation to its Creator, creation is as nothing.
    • Moreover, even the legitimate goods we legitimately gain in this life are as nothing in comparison with the goodness of knowing God. Christ called St. Paul–and Christ calls us–to complete dedication to Himself. This means that whenever there is any conflict between a created good and the Uncreated Good, we ought to choose the latter, and that means “the loss” of the former. 
    • And, of course, any sin we commit in seeking the real or apparent happiness that can be gained from a created good is actually rubbish. Turning away from those things involves a “loss” too. 
  • Union with Christ is a life-long “pursuit in hope.” It consists of the grace of God, faith, and suffering with Christ. 
  • “[F]orgetting 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.”
  • It is not that St. Paul or we take possession of Christ but that we cooperate in Christ taking possession of us.

Verse before the Gospel Jl 2:12-13

Even now, says the Lord,
return to me with your whole heart;
for I am gracious and merciful.

Gospel Jn 8:1-11

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.”

  • The scene with the woman caught in adultery was played out in front of all the people who had gathered around Our Lord, listening to him teach.
  • The woman was brought there by evil men. They were evil not because they were scribes and Pharisees but because they really did not care about what the law said (otherwise they would have gone elsewhere to carry out the judicial proceedings and sentence).
  • By writing on the ground, Our Lord gave everyone time to think—the scribes and Pharisees, the crowd, even the woman. Then Our Lord gave everyone something to think about: whether each one of them was a sinner. Remarkably, he convinced them all and the accusers departed one by one, beginning with the elders.
  • Still there remained the crowd and the woman. One can imagine the thoughts going through the woman’s head. I think she was also bathed in the loving countenance of Our Lord. She knew he did not approve of her sin but he deeply approved of her.
  • She experienced what our Gospel verse proclaims: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart; for I am gracious and merciful.”
    • She could return because the Lord is gracious and merciful.
      • He showed his graciousness by not saying one word against her.
      • He showed his mercy by not condemning her and by confirming that she should change her life so as not to fall into the same sin again.

Doctrine: The surpassing wealth of knowing Christ

  • Paul asserts that knowing Christ is “the supreme good.”
  • Today’s reading from St. Paul lays out how knowledge of Christ is the fundamental requirement for anyone called to “teach Christ.” The requirement know Christ to teach Christ applies not only to formal, commissioned teachers, but also to parents and to anyone who wishes to witness Christ by his life:

Whoever is called “to teach Christ” must first seek “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus”; he must suffer “the loss of all things…” in order to “gain Christ and be found in him,” and “to know him and the power of his resurrection, and [to] share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible [he] may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (CCC 428)

  • Christ’s humanity, both his human soul and his human body, is now part of the Blessed Trinity. This is “a transcendent intervention of God himself in creation and history.” (CCC 648) Thus, we can know Christ through his humanity and if we know Christ we also know the Trinity.
  • “[T]hose who die in Christ’s grace” participate “in the death of the Lord, so that they can also share his Resurrection” (CCC 1006).
  • In this knowledge of Christ, we believe and hope that “after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day” (CCC 989).

Practical application: Know Christ better

  • Lent is a particular call the Church offers us to know Christ better. Lent is the call to know Christ under the aspect of suffering–Christ’s and our own. So, how can we enter the dimension of salvific suffering better in the weeks of Lent that remain?
  • One essential way we can always come to know Christ is by “frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.” As St. Jerome pointed out long ago, “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” (CCC 133)
    • Thus, one way to know Christ better is prayerful daily immersion in the Sacred Scriptures. One fruitful approach to the Scriptures is through the daily lectionary readings for Lent. These readings are arranged to set out Christ’s approaching Passion in the light of salvation history.
    • In this encounter, we can bathe in Christ’s approval, despite our sins, like the caught woman who escaped condemnation. 
    • We can also offer up to Christ our own sufferings and sorrows.
    • We can offer the sacrifice of time devoted to this task.
  • Christ said to the woman caught in adultery, “from now on do not sin any more.” If we apply this to ourselves, this means for us a daily “loss of all things,” since we continue to be pulled by the real or apparent goods that attracted us and attached us to our sins in the first place.
    • When we lose these things out of allegiance to Christ, then we share in his sufferings.
    • Although the ultimate reward is eternal life and the direct vision of God, there is a precious reward we can experience now through pursuit of Christ and struggle against sin: intimacy with Christ who is merciful and gracious.

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

This outline is written to be in accord with the Homiletic Directory issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (2014). (To read an excellent summary of the Homiletic Directory, click here.)

The Homiletic Directory offers the following Catechism points and themes for the Fifth Sunday of Lent:

  • CCC 430, 545, 589, 1846-1847: Jesus manifests the Father’s mercy
  • CCC 133, 428, 648, 989, 1006: the surpassing wealth of knowing Christ
  • CCC 2475-2479: rash judgment






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