Remember the old Protestant gospel song, probably written and sung prior to the 1870’s.
Give me that old-time religion,
Give me that old-time religion
Give me that old-time religion
It’s good enough for me
The song represents a spiritual mindset that goes against the teachings of scripture, particularly with Isaiah and the prophets and St. Paul.
Isaiah briefly recalls the great works of God, particularly how He brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea, saying,
Remember not the events of the past,…
see, I am doing something new!
Quite often in Evangelical Protestant culture you may hear the question, “Brother, have you been saved?”
We learn from St. Paul who speaks of his hope of salvation through perseverance in hope,
“… if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it ….
Our salvation is a work in progress. What we seek in faith is something entirely new, something that was never available to us before. Listen to Paul looking forward, not backward,
… forgetting what lies behind
but straining forward to what lies ahead,
I continue my pursuit toward the goal,
the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.
Something is coming that is entirely new. Don’t look back, but forward to something that is infinitely greater than anything we have ever seen. Paul focuses on the finish line.
This outlines one of the conflicts that Jesus had with the scribes and Pharisees. They were attempting to preserve their view of “Old time religion” with it’s rigid rules, and lack of compassion. Jesus was attempting to show us God’s vision of the “finish line”, with forgiveness and life eternal in the resurrection.
Few things upset the Jews like Jesus’ claim to be able to forgive sins. Yet he kept on doing it, over and over.
In the Gospel, Jesus is teaching in the Temple area, when the scribes and Pharisees push a woman caught in the act of adultery into the center of the group. Jewish law called for stoning, for both the adulteress woman and the man. But the Jews are only using the woman to see whether Jesus will uphold Mosaic Law to stone her.
The problem is that Jews lost the authority of capital punishment under Roman law and occupation. Recall that the Jews could not kill Jesus because of Roman law, so they sought Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers to do their killing for them. If Jesus refused to support Mosaic law to stone the woman, then that would have shown him to be unfaithful as a Jew. But, if Jesus agreed to her stoning, he would also have participated in breaking Roman law. The Jewish leaders thought they had Jesus in a trap. They insisted that Jesus give them his response, while the woman knew she was as good as dead, and in just a few moments.
Jesus’ response completely turned the tables on them.
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
If they threw the stone, they would be in violation of Roman law, and in a very public place. If they refused to throw the stone, they were complicit in sin. In shame they went away, one by one.
Do you remember the story of the Samaritan woman at the well? Let’s look at her story, which we find in only a few chapters earlier, in John chapter 4.
Like the women caught in adultery, the Samaritan woman at the well had multiple male partners. After speaking to her about the living waters, Jesus said to her,
“Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”
Jesus was teaching her about the living water of the forgiveness of sins. She began to experience her conversion, but never really sought forgiveness of her sin.
We can think of these two stories like bookends of a lesson. The “Living water” is the water of life. In the Samaritan woman’s story, she is offered Living Water. In the story of the woman caught in adultery, she receives the “Living Water” as she receives Jesus’ forgiveness of her sin. Both women are sinners. Both experienced conversion.
In some Church traditions, Mary Magdalene was the woman caught in adultery. In the Gospel of Luke, we read about,
Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, …
Mary was one of the women who supported Jesus and the apostles. Mary Magdalene appears in more Gospel stories than most of the apostles. Mary Magdalene was the first woman to witness to the Resurrection of Jesus. Mary Magdalene affirms the promise made to each of us: Eternal Life.
The story of the woman caught in adultery is also about God’s mercy. Jesus gave her life back to her when she was about to be killed for her sin, saying to her after her accusers left,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
Lent is about conversion of heart and perseverance. Conversion is always about preparing ourselves to change. Does something need to change? Conversion is always new, not the “Old time religion”. St. Paul tells us to keep our eye on the finish line, don’t look back.