It is a scene which plays itself out every day on our city streets. Men and women have lost everything because of their addictions to drugs and alcohol.
Who knows how it all started. At first, they may have been introduced to it by friends at a party. Afraid of feeling left out or wanting to impress others, they try it. For a brief moment, they like the feeling of euphoria it gives them. They enjoy being liberated from their fears and inhibitions, if only for a short while. Though they may have regretted it the next day, their friends tell them how funny they were and so they put aside their shame, enjoying the feeling of acceptance.
However, soon the drugs and alcohol go from being only something they did on the weekend to something they do almost every night. Before long they are doing it not just for fun but to get through the day. It becomes more than a habit. It becomes a need - a hard, driving need that becomes more important than anything else in their lives. They are unable to work and so lose their livelihood. Their families can no longer support their behavior and so they lose their homes. Because they are no longer the life of the party but an embarrassment, their friends abandon them.
Soon they have nowhere else left to go except the streets. They are alone. Although the drugs and alcohol promised to bring them friendships, love and inner peace, they have brought them only loneliness, rejection and destitution.
It is also a story that played itself out on the streets of Jerusalem. The young woman wanted nothing more than love and attention. She reveled in the gifts her lover would give her and thrilled to hear him tell her how beautiful she was. It felt good to be noticed, to feel appreciated and wanted. Though she knew it was wrong to commit adultery and that the consequences of being caught were severe, she wanted to please her lover. The attraction was so strong that she did not believe she could resist it.
We all know what happens next. She is caught by the scribes and Pharisees and dragged to the feet of Jesus. Her lover abandons her. By giving herself to him, she had hoped to find love and acceptance. However, all she received was rejection, scorn and condemnation. Shame and guilt were the least of her worries. Instead she feared for her life since it was very likely that the self-righteous crowd would stone her to death. She chose sin looking for love and found nothing but rejection.
In contrast, it is at the feet of Jesus that this woman finds the love and mercy her heart had so desperately longed for. He saves her from the crowd that threatens to stone her. He picks her up from the dirt, wipes away her tears and sends her home with the warning, “Go and sin no more.” What she was unable to find by sinning she found in Jesus who restores her dignity and affirms her unique value as a daughter of God.
This story does not just take place on the streets of our cities or in the streets of Jerusalem. It also takes place in our lives, in our homes and in our hearts. We may not be addicted to drugs and alcohol. We may not be committing adultery. However, in many ways both large and small we choose sin over God’s love. We fall prey to the false promises of love, pleasure and inner peace that sin offers us. And in the process, we lose touch with our Heavenly Father who is the source of all love. Sin hurts and offends God because it is a rejection of His love. It hurts and offends Jesus who died on the cross to set us free. And it grieves the Holy Spirit who offers us the grace to rise above temptation. Whenever we sin, we are like the drug addict in the street or the woman in the gospel. Though we are seeking love, we will find rejection. Though we are seeking inner peace, we will find only torment. And though we are seeking pleasure, we will find only despair.
However, that does not need to be the end of the story. We can always turn to Jesus to find forgiveness. When we sin, our first instinct is to want to hide from God because we feel ashamed. However, we should fly to Him because He is forgiving.
Consider the woman in the gospel. Is it not ironic that, if she had never been caught sinning, she might never have met Jesus? She might have heard Him preach or seen Him passing by. She may have heard the stories of the miracles He performed. But she probably would never have come face to face with Him. She might have thought He was a moving speaker or a mighty healer. But, without being dragged to Him by the scribes and Pharisees, she would never have experienced how gentle and merciful He was. Because of her weakness, she came to know Jesus more personally than would otherwise be possible.
The same is true for us. We may read the Bible, listen to sermons or hear others tell the story of how Jesus changed their lives. But it is not until we come to Jesus on our knees, weeping over our sins and seeking relief from our burden of guilt that we come to know in a personal, heartfelt way just how merciful and loving He is. If we can come to Jesus with humility and sorrow, then our weakness will bring us closer to Him. We will understand that God is not a harsh judge who wants to condemn us but a loving father who is eager to welcome us home. Furthermore, we will come to understand that the only way to find the love and serenity we desire in the depths of our being is in the warm embrace of our Heavenly Father.