Was someone to offer me $10,000 if I were to answer the question “who were the nominees for Best Actress in last week’s Academy Awards?”  or to name the films that were in competition for Best Picture, or even $100,000 to name who actually won – I’d be slightly frustrated right now – because I legitimately don’t know the answers to any of those questions (in fact when I said this to my brother the other night that I didn’t know the 4 films up for Best Picture he said, you’re not kidding, there were 8).   But if a random stranger were to bump into me and ask “hey what’s this story about Chris Rock and Will Smith?” I could speak about it in greater detail and for longer than the actual 2 minutes that the whole episode played out in real-time (I know that it was 2 minutes from the countless video shares that went viral this past week)   How Chris Rock as he was presenting the award for Best Documentary at the 2022 Academy Awards last Sunday, made a joke about Will Smith’s wife, Jada Smith having a shaved head.  How she rolled her eyes, how Will Smith seemed to laugh and smile at it, and then moments later got up from his seat, walked on stage right towards Chris Rock, smacked him in the face… how Rock tried to laugh it off as Smith returned to his seat and then proceeded to scream at him shouting vulgarities and saying Rock is not to mention his wife’s name.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT – April 3, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim

That’s pretty pathetic.  Both what happened and my being able to recount all that.  Purportedly the Oscars are about celebrating the best of the best in Hollywood – but I couldn’t give you any information about them.  Not for nothing, Hollywood, Awards, the whole thing it’s not an interest of mine.  When I got back from our evening Mass on campus last week, I knew that they were on, and couldn’t have cared less.  Made some phone calls, read a few emails, and then found myself seeing headlines on social media about Smith and Rock.  At first, I didn’t really care, but then more and more people started chiming in online, a friend texted me about it, and before I knew it, I was watching the video myself.  And found myself drawn into the debates and discussions that have happened since:

Was it real?  Was it staged?  Reports said: that officials at the awards show asked Smith to leave and that he refused… that LAPD Police were on site and were ready to arrest him, but Chris Rock wouldn’t press charges (but he can change his mind on that)   As the week wore on, the focus shifted to whose side are you on: defending Will Smith for standing up for his wife and being emotional because reportedly she has alopecia a medical condition that results in baldness which is why she shaved her head…  Or are you on Chris Rock’s side saying he made a stupid joke in a night full of them and such a reaction is always unacceptable?

For a week this has been one of the biggest topics of conversation.  My point isn’t to help continue to keep this trending.  Rather to ask, why do we fall for it every single time.  Where we delude ourselves that this needs our attention this is an outrage that needs to be addressed.  We fall for the lie that this is a serious thoughtful discussion of right and wrong.  We enter into these debates whether it’s between Hollywood Actors or some nameless woman caught in adultery as we find in today’s Gospel.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought this woman before Jesus who was caught in adultery pretend that this is a discussion of righteousness.  We can say “pretend” because there are so many questions from the outset.  For one, is this just a setup?  Have they enlisted this woman to present a scenario to Jesus just to put him in a bind?  Because if Jesus agreed with the law from Moses that those caught in adultery should be stoned to death, Roman officials would have him arrested for undermining their rule and authority – while if Jesus advocated dismissing the law of Moses, the scribes and Pharisees would turn to the crowds and call him a heretic, a blasphemer (which truth be told, they did anyway)   So it was t likely they were simply interested in trapping Jesus rather than dealing with the serious sin of adultery.  Because if this woman was caught in the very act of adultery, she wasn’t alone – so where’s the guy?  Mosaic law would’ve said that they both deserved punishment for committing that sin.

Let’s pause there for a second though.  Because it’s an important “second” to pause at.  Our ears don’t like to hear this – that adultery was ever listed as a “capital offense” punishable by death, do we?  That’s so harsh we think.  That’s the ‘mean God’ of the Old Testament that Jesus completely annihilates with this very Gospel scene, right?  The same Jesus who says elsewhere “Judge not lest ye be judged” (as we fall into citing the King James Version of the bible – demonstrating we’ve heard that quote more than read or reflected on that whole Gospel scene, but that’s a discussion for another day)

Why was this a big deal?  Why was adultery ever considered punishable by death?  Because God is serious when He tells his people sin is a big deal.  And that if we don’t treat it like a big deal, it can mean a fate worse than physical death – namely eternity separated from Him being in Hell.  Yes, newsflash Hell is a real thing – and exists…  It’s THE REASON Jesus comes, to save us from it.

When the Lord first called Moses to lead His people and gave Moses the 10 commandments, He was calling the people of Israel to show the world what it meant that they were intimately bound for all eternity with the Lord God of Heaven and Earth.  That being in covenant with Him made them different.  Different and special because of God and Him alone.  The difference He makes is that specialness that set them apart from all the peoples of the earth in calling them to pursue holiness and righteousness.

Adultery was (IS) a serious offense that undermined the whole community. It attacks the sacred bond of husband and wife, it has devastating effects on the children of the family (or families)  – the ripple effects to extended family – the division, the debate, the picking of sides, the justification, the loopholes, the assigning of blame, the distraction that such an affair not could, but would wreak havoc on many others, outside just the man and woman caught in this sinful act.  So it is serious and needed to be dealt with seriously. “Stoning” – capital punishment seems extreme to us and it is, and it is no longer an acceptable response.

But the only way we can get to a place of determining that it is extreme is actually having a moral code to live by.  At that point in the Old Testament, the world did not have a moral code.  The 10 commandments were a way of introducing that to broken, sinful humanity.   While we today rightly reject “stoning” for adultery – just like the Old Testament adage of“an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” at that time that people who were wild, reckless…. where the only rules, only laws, only morals were based on superstition and survival of the fittest …. where women were treated as property, children an afterthought – these were measured ways of God’s laws and as a people living under them to be tamed and trained.  To call people to think differently, live differently.  To become Holy.  To be His people – required a radical reshifting of things.  They had been given commandments from the Lord God.  All 10 of them were massive shifts for the people of that day and age to come to know and more importantly to follow.   Those penalties – whether it was stoning or eyes for eyes and tooth for a tooth were measured ways of introducing justice into lawlessness, ultimately with the focus being on the essential calls to reject sin and to pursue holiness.

That was 1000 years before we get to Jesus in this Gospel scene and a whole lot of history that has happened in between.   At this point, the “law” was known as was the concept of justice.  The call to holiness, while still difficult for people to navigate, was reflected on and understood.  There are numerous examples of failures on the part of the people of God individually and collectively makes up the bulk of books and chapters of the Old Testament.  But at this point in history, after centuries of prophets, experiences of mercy, and redemption did at God’s hand, those extreme punishments weren’t necessary.  But that had not changed the eternal truth that God was serious about the commandments and even more than His people needed to be single-minded and focused on rooting out sin.

So back to this particular day in the Gospel, the scribes and Pharisees aren’t interested in the scandal of adultery, nor are they looking interiorly at what areas are scandalous that they need to reject.  They are simply interested in trapping Jesus.  Many modern-day scribes and Pharisees can be equally as manipulative and dangerous in the other extreme, by saying that we can’t call anything a sin or talk about morals or judge things that are evil – which is ludicrous.  Jesus is pretty clear as he says to the woman, whether she actually committed adultery or was just a pawn in this trap they were trying to set for Him – either of which would be sinful, very clearly “do not sin anymore.”  And lest we forget, Jesus is pretty consistent about that imperative – identifying sin and eliminating it from our lives, whether it’s through parables or dramatic hyperbolic examples like saying “if your hand causes you to sin cut it off, it’s better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”  Jesus is not saying the guilty are guiltless.  And it’s a complete distortion of who He is and what He has said to say otherwise.

So for us here and now, it would be foolish to ignore that Will Smith acted atrociously.  That Chris Rock said something stupid and hurtful (that a lot of what passes for comedy today or jokes could fall into that category for that matter)… Nor should it be ignored that Will Smith and his wife openly boasting about their “open marriage” where they brag about their committing adultery – is atrocious too.  Just playing arm-chair psychologist here, perhaps that was one contributing factor to what we witnessed last Sunday.  But I digress.  We’re not to call those guilty of public crimes and sins guiltless.  And yes there are responsibilities as a society that we owe to one another that are affected by those things and need to be adjudicated.  Crimes need to be condemned and punished.  People need to know what is right and wrong, what is unacceptable – and to be protected from evil behaviors.

But our primary the focus isn’t meant to be on what is everyone else doing – but what are you and I doing?  That’s the brilliance of what Jesus’ does in response to this trap. He doesn’t dismiss any sin as not a big deal, while at the same time pulls us away from is our being maniacally obsessed and distracted to the point of condemning others, while we ignore that which needs the most attention, what is happening within ourselves or even what isn’t?  What sins have we become defensive of and protective of as we are ready to pounce “judge not lest ye be judged” if someone mentions them?  What behaviors do we pretend Jesus is defending as we’re ready to misquote “let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone” to justify our not breaking those habits, asking for help, and most especially, going to God by going to confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and admitting our sins, our need for His mercy.

The beautiful words from the prophet Isaiah in that first reading have the Lord God saying to us it’s important to remember the past – yes where we have come from and more importantly the mighty acts God himself did to save His people.  But not to stay in the past – we’re not there anymore: “see I am doing something new!”  God says.  In the second reading, in his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul testifies to that truth with his own life.  Paul who before his conversion would’ve been with the scribes and Pharisees conspiring to somehow trap Jesus rather than deal with what was going on in his heart and soul- now he sees that truth. That’s why he says that his maniacal focus on externals was now rubbish.  Goodness, Righteousness comes from living a life of faith… from single-mindedness on Jesus Christ, on His death and resurrection, by “sharing of his suffering by being conformed to his death.”  That’s what Lent has been about – those three pillars of Fasting, Prayer and Giving are our suffering and minor deaths to help us keep that focus.  That’s why they aren’t just “lent things” but meant to be “all the time things” – but for now, even if we’ve struggled this Lent, these readings are meant to shake us up and invite us to join Paul in “forgetting what lies behind, but straining forward to what lies ahead, pursuit toward the goal of Christ Jesus.”

It is the devil who wants to keep us falling for his lies on discussions of what is right and just while at the same time twisting Jesus’ words to say we can never call something a sin.  It is the devil who wants to distract us with the latest thing trending that always draws our focus on someone else, rather than looking within.

I’m embarrassed I knew so much about Will and Jada Smith, Chris Rock, and very ugly and difficult things about their lives and stories.  They are people who most likely I’ll never even meet.  As we’ve seen time and time again, it’s doubtful that any meaningful will come of the hours of discussion and debate that have consumed the international discourse.  It’s a distraction from what really matters.   What matters is that Jesus, who is God incarnate, who is mercy, who lays down his life so that we don’t have to suffer because of our sins.  As we enter these last two weeks of Lent and the focus shifts more intentionally on his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, which reminds us that He doesn’t condemn us, but doesn’t want us to sin anymore.  I don’t know about you, but that definitely needs to be a full-time job for me.