History is important to us. It is important to remember our past. Remembering the past tells you your roots, where you come from and the people and the events who formed you for better or for worse. Remember the past tells us where we have been.
But there is a danger of staying in the past. Today’s Gospel sheds a lot of light on this (John 8:1-11). The woman caught in adultery has a past, a shameful past. Jesus does not minimize her past. He names it for what it is – a sin. He condemns the sin, but not the sinner.
But the past is past and what concerns Jesus is the future. He says, “From now on, avoid this sin.” The past is part of our own story and God’s story as well.
We ought to know the past, because we live off of it. Yet there is a danger to be avoided – To Live in the Past!
The author and pastor, Frederick Buechner, writes sadly of his mother who died a very lonely death as an old woman. Once she lost her youthful beauty, she was like a millionaire who ran out of money. She got an unlisted phone number and kept to herself. After she lost her beauty and her youth, she saw no other possibilities. She retired into the past, retreated from the present and missed out on the future.
Whether it’s turning 40 or 65, whether it is an enfeebling illness, a lousy job, or forced retirement….Whether it is family problems, alcoholism or a nursing home….Whatever it is that imprisons us, we can feel not only different, but diminished. The temptation is to harken back to our glory days when things were better.
There is an old movie, Come Back, Little Sheba, that makes this point. Burt Lancaster is a recovering alcoholic. His wife, Shirley Booth, is a devotedwoman with a big heart. But she bores him endlessly by continually recalling the good old days.
Remember when? Again and again she walks out on the porch and calls out for Little Sheba, their dog who had long ago disappeared. The dog is a symbol of days gone by. For 20 years they have been living in the past. They live what Thoreau called – “lives of quiet desperation”.
But you have to remember – Our faith tells us that the best days are ahead – a life with Christ in glory. So we must be “forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead” as St. Paul tell is in today’s reading (Philippians 3:8-14). Tomorrow should be better than yesterday, since each day can become an opportunity for grace. A God Provide
But that is where guilt comes in. Guilt is basically being stuck in the past. The woman caught in adultery may well have had a deep sense of guilt. I can imagine her asking herself, “How can a God who prizes fidelity, ever forgive me my infidelity? How can I expect my husband to forgive me? Above all, can I ever forgive myself? This wonderful, compassionate Jesus has told me that he doesn’t condemn me. But how can I live with the look on their faces? How can I live with my husband? How can I live with myself?”
Many a Christian is like that. Many a Christian seems unable to accept Christ’s forgiveness. They go through life wallowing in guilt, afraid of hell, tormented by past offences, and unable to make peace with their own human frailty.
We have such a hard time accepting and living with the fact that Jesus died for our sins. So the trick is to fix our eyes not on yesterday’s sin, but on today’s forgiveness and tomorrow’s hope.
There is a true story about a Catholic priest who lived in the Philippines. He was very loved by his people. But he had committed a sin before he became a priest that lay deeply buried in his heart. He had repented of it, but he still suffered remorse. He could find no peace, no inner joy, and no sense of God’s forgiveness.
There was a woman in his parish who was deeply religious and claimed to have visions in which she spoke to Jesus. The priest was very skeptical of her claims. But to test her he said: “The next time you talk to Jesus, ask him what sin I committed before I became a priest.”
A few days later, the priest asked her if she had talked to Jesus and what he said. She said that she had talked to Jesus. “Well what did he say?” he asked.
Jesus said, “I don’t remember! That is what God wants you to know!”
When God forgives – God forgets!!