5th Sunday of Lent
March 20, 1983
Is 43: 16-21
John 8: 1-11
Don Bosco Tech, Paterson, N.J.
On Sunday, March 13, I was camping with Troop 40 and preached to them without a written text. Here's a homily on the day's texts from the files.
Exile. Refugee. These are terrible words, words that identify someone who has experienced and continues to experience misfortune and persecution.
In recent years we’ve seen the misery of exiles and refugees from Haiti, Cuba, Central America, Southeast Asia, Poland, and Russia. On TV and radio we’ve heard countless times about Palestinians living in displacement camps since 1948. These people can live only on hope—hope of returning home someday or hope of making a new life in a new home.
God’s people experienced a long exile in Babylon in the 6th century B.C., following a catastrophic war and the destruction of their homeland and the holy city. As the years of that exile counted up toward 50, a prophet came to them, proclaiming hope, deliverance, salvation. We don’t know his name. We call him Second Isaiah, and it is he whom we heard this morning. “Thus says the Lord: ‘Remember not the former things…. Behold, I am doing a new things…. I will make a way on the wilderness and rivers in the desert’” (Is 43:18-19).
The former things that the Jews are to forget and no longer to consider are not just the burning of the Temple, the leveling of Jerusalem, and living in a long exile. They are going to forget their first great deliverance, the deliverance in which the Lord made a way thru the sea and extinguished an army of chariot and horse (cf. Is 43:16-17), the deliverance from Egypt that created Israel and established God as their Savior. They can forget this, for behold, God is doing a new thing, working a new deliverance. It’s about to spring forth. He will make a new way, a new exodus from the bondage of Babylonian exile, thru the wilderness of the Syrian Desert, and this new deliverance will outshine the old one on glory and wonder.
Second Isaiah prophesized correctly the fall of Babylon, the end of exile, and the return of the Jews to their homeland. There was a new deliverance and a new exodus. If that deliverance doesn’t appear to us to have been as spectacular as the one effected by the plagues in Egypt and the division of the Red Sea, I’m sure it was spectacular enuf to the exiles who were able to go home.
God’s people, the Christian Church to whom we belong, are in exile. We are reminded today of a more wonderful deliverance from bondage. As St. Paul says, “Christ Jesus has made [us] his own” (Phil 3:12). He has done that by freeing us from the exile of our sins, as he forgave the adulteress (John 8:1-11): no conditions, just an offer of salvation and a new start: “I don’t condemn you. Go, and don’t sin again” (John 8:11).
During Lent we’re on a journey from sinfulness to forgiveness. Jesus is our way. Jesus is our deliverance from sin. It’s sin that has made is exiles from our Father’s home, refugees bound by our selfishness and cruelty, like the younger son in last Sunday’s parable (Luke 15:11-31).
Easter, the resurrection of Christ, promises us that Christ’s forgiveness is a real salvation, salvation he wants to pour upon us like water in the wilderness or rivers in the desert (Is 43:20), deliverance made new and wonderful every year, even every day.
The Lord has done great things for us (cf. Ps 136). Let’s be filled with joy, like prisoners set free, like exiles going home. Behold, he does a new thing day by day, forgiving us and loving us with the power of Christ’s resurrection (cf. Phil 3:10).