Part of life is often seen in the rearview mirror. Repentance and conversion need the rearview mirror – to see what has been and to begin to think what is possible. Lots of things can be seen in that mirror – memories good and bad, wisdom, information about the choices we’ve made, … and regret.
Two Sundays ago, we heard the parable of the barren fruit tree. We can all look into the rearview mirror of our lives and recognize barren periods. We may regret the loss of opportunity, the wasted efforts….and more. While the vineyard owner wanted to lay the axe to the tree and make room for a tree that will bear fruit, the gardener wants one more year. A year for change, a year for repentance. When we look into that rearview mirror of life, we can see our barren periods and regret, but in that same moment do we also see the continuing patience of God with us who had not yet given evidence of the fruit of repentance, of conversion? Can we see past regret to hand of mercy upon us?
Last week there was the parable of the Prodigal Son. When the money runs out, famine falls upon the land, and he is reduced to tending swine and eating what they eat – the young man looks in the rearview mirror. I hope he feels regret about the way he treated his father, his abandonment of family, and more. But I hope he also sees the father who understood that home would never be home for the younger son unless he first left. I hope he sees the father who knew that getting lost and being found, making one’s way home is part of the journey the young son needed. The father trusted the son to make the journey. The father understood. He possessed a deep and patient wisdom of how life and desire actually work. Did the young man, mired in regret, see the hand of mercy upon him?
This week, we have the story of the woman caught in grave sin. Unlike the two previous stories wherein there is time for reflection, this week the past collapses head long into the present. Her sin is on display for all the community to see. Sure, we can ask about fairness, why she is there alone and not the other person, but in that one singular moment, times slows, and she wonders, “How did my life lead to this moment.” In a flash the rearview mirror plays out the string of events that led to this moment. Amidst all the other emotions she experiences, shame, fear and more, there is regret. Regret for her choices, regret for so many things. But she is also in the presence of Mercy itself.
There has been much written about what Jesus was writing in the dust. He does it twice. Many speculate he was writing out the sins of those who would accuse the women. We have no way of knowing. We’ll have to ask when we get to heaven. For my own part, I wonder if the first time he was writing out her regrets. I imagine the woman having been cast at Jesus’ feet for him to judge. And so, when he stoops to write in the dust, she alone can see what he writes. She sees her regrets spelled out, the rearview mirror of her life held up by the One who knows, who understands, who has empathy for her.
And when he again writes, I can imagine Him writing the words of the Prophet Isaiah from our first reading: “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.” (Isa 43:18-19) And perhaps she understands that she is under the hand of mercy – something surely new in her life.
In the barren time, the prodigal times, and in the sinful times, there will be a legacy of regret that arises in memory. But are we also able to see that in that moment was something new, something graced, something merciful?
In the end when the vineyard owner comes, we will receive what the Law prescribes, the consequences of our actions, and be held accountable. But for another year, the gardener will shower us with mercy and grace. The prodigal Father will embrace us. We will stand in the presence of Divine Mercy – just as Jesus did the woman.
No condemnations, no preconditions; only mercy. And there is the divine command laced with hope: “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
We are the fig tree, the prodigal son, the women who sinned. The time has been extended for us in a moment of mercy, a time to begin anew to start on the path of repentance and conversion. “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?” Easter is coming.