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Sunday Scripture: Behold I am doing a new thing

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

By Sister Betty J. Lillie, S.C.

Fifth Sunday of Lent: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126:1-6; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

The words of Second Isaiah rang out good news of comfort for God’s people because their exile in Babylon was coming to an end. The tide was turning; a new thing was about to begin. Their history would move from the service of exile to their return and restoration in their own land.

The theme of a new beginning is interwoven with such words as redemption and restoration that present the concept of a turnabout and a new way of life. God would not redeem Israel for its own merits, but because of their unique covenant relationship with Him. The word of the Lord to them was, “I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). Their God’s whole system of dealing with them was different from that of the other gods. Their God loved them. The Holy One of Israel was their Redeemer (Isaiah 43:14). Through the prophet God identified himself as Creator and as King of Israel (Isaiah 43:15). That may not have been the thing they most expected to hear at that time.
Later in their history of salvation when Jesus came there was a perception of the fact that He was doing things differently than was expected. The Scribes and Pharisees were worried about Jesus’ different approach to their teaching and to the fact that He was acting outside of their sphere of power.  The story of the sinful woman who was brought to Jesus for judgment, turned out to be a story about judgment against the religious establishment and the forgiveness of the woman. Again the Pharisees raised issues with Jesus.
Unraveling all the aspects of this text may be complicated, but what is clear is that Jesus was not doing what the Pharisees expected. Something new was taking place. A supposed sinner was forgiven, and the supposed religious elite were put to shame! Is there a lesson in all of that for us?
In Paul’s Letter to the Philippians the apostle tells the community about his own turnabout. Formerly he had thought of himself as a to the law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church and as to righteousness under the law blameless. After his conversion he came to count all of that as loss because of the surpassing worth of Christ (Philippians 3:8). No longer was his righteousness based on the law, but it was based on faith in Christ — not based on externals but on the gift of God the object of which is the person of Christ.
Paul makes the point that at the time of his writing he did not consider himself as perfect, but he pressed on by the grace of God, forgetting what lay behind and straining forward to what lay ahead. All of that was because Christ Jesus had taken Paul for His own (Philippians 3:12-14). Here we come again to something new coming into being, and to what Paul calls the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
With the psalmist we can praise God for doing great things in the history of salvation. We can pray that we are open to the great things God does for us. For all of that we are glad indeed (Psalm 126).

Sister Betty Jane is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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