Fifth Sunday of Lent – United by Our Creator and Redeemer

Jesus Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery,
Lorenzo Lotto, c. 1528, Louvre
(About this Image)

They said to him,
“Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
(John 8:4–7)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Philippians 3:8–14
April 3, 2022

Paul’s mission strategy was to go to a large trading city with at
least some Jewish merchants. He would visit their synagogue and as a
learned man be invited to speak. As a compelling speaker, he would
attract disciples among them and from this core he extended his ministry
to Gentiles. When he felt that the seed had been planted, he would
choose leaders and move on to another city. This allowed him to make
more converts, but it also meant that the seed may not have had much
time to mature before it was tested. Since other preachers would have
realized the same thing as Paul and also sought out cities on trade
routes, the most serious testing was from other Christians. Sometimes as
with Apollos in Corinth, it led to the strengthening of the community
but usually it was from Jewish converts who were unwilling to give up
their customs and often held on to doctrines now incompatible with faith
in Jesus. As we read last week in the 2nd letter to the
Corinthians, these false teachers could change the minds of Paul’s new
Christians. This caused Paul such distress that letter is called “the
Letter of Sorrow.” On the other hand the Philippians remained strong in
their faith and this letter is called the “Letter of Friendship.”

Before we read the section chosen for today’s Mass, we must look at
the beginning of this section of the letter. Paul warns the Philippians
about his opponents in very straightforward language.

Beware of the dogs!
Beware of the evil workers!
Beware of the mutilation

(Php 3:2)

A Jew calling another Jew a dog is particularly strong. He will give
no quarter in this debate. He also refers to circumcision as
“mutilation.” His opponents will insist on circumcision as a perquisite
for living the Christian life. Paul’s use of such strong language at the
very beginning of this discussion shows that he thinks this is

For we are the circumcision,
we who worship through the Spirit of God,
who boast in Christ Jesus
and do not put our confidence in flesh,

(Php 3:3)

Circumcision here means someone who is marked as a Jew. For Paul
Jesus fulfills Judaism and that the physical sign of being a follower of
God is by worship in the spirit. Anything else is putting one’s trust in
this world thus the “flesh.”

Paul however will next press his impeccable Jewish credentials. By
the terms of his opponents, he is to use his own words “blameless”

But whatever gains I had,
these I have come to consider a loss
because of Christ.

(Php 3:7)

He continues with this theme in today’s reading.

He considers not only the trappings of religion but everything else
as disposable indeed rubbish (although the word he uses is closer in
meaning to dung) if it interferes with his relationship with Christ.

This is true righteousness. It means being in right relationship with
God. He once believed like his opponents that this relationship occurred
by fulfilling the laws of Judaism. Now he knows that it is through faith
in Jesus. As we saw last week with the Corinthians, the model of
righteousness is God himself and his faithfulness to the covenant even
when we have broken it. The new covenant is formed though Jesus’s death
and resurrection.

This changes not only how we think but how we feel, what we find
important and thus what we desire. Paul next outlines 5 great

to know Jesus not just about him:

to know him

to know the power of the resurrection: the direct experience
of divine intervention in the world

and the power of his resurrection.

to share in his suffering : share the life of Jesus in its most
intimate form

and (the) sharing of his sufferings by being

to share in his martyrdom

conformed to his death

to attain resurrection

if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Paul is very aware that righteousness is a relationship and that,
however filled with the spirit might be, he will never be perfectly an
instrument of God. He is cooperating with God but is not yet completed.
He is already righteous but not yet fully so.

Paul here uses a play on words which would be very foreign to us but
impressive to his readers. He uses two forms of the same word
lambano—to take, receive—and katalambano.—to make
someone one’s own, grasp. He uses these words four times in two
verses—note the italics.

It is not that I have already taken hold of it
or have already attained perfect maturity,
but I continue my pursuit in hope
that I may possess it,
since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ
Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself
to have taken possession

(Php 3:12–13)

For his first readers this would have elegantly expressed the
incompleteness of Paul’s journey with and into Christ and the
interaction between himself and God. He knows that he is and always will
be a work in process.

Today’s passage ends with a sports image.

I continue my pursuit toward the goal,
the prize of God’s upward calling,
in Christ Jesus.

(Php 3:14)

He is striving towards his goal; God’s upward calling. A prize is
something of great value and is desired, but it also must be given by
someone else. This prize can only be given by God. Yet what is it?

This verse is the last in today’s reading, but the section ends

But our citizenship is in heaven,
and from it we also await a savior,
the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change (metaschēmatizo)
our lowly body to conform
(symmorphos) with his glorified body
by the power that enables him
also to bring all things into subjection to himself.

(Php 3:21)

The prize is transformation into Christ. Metacchematizo
(change) is change in what can be seen. Our lowly—fleshly—body will be
changed in its exterior sense, but it will reveal
symmorphos—change, a radical interior transformation here
translated as conformed with Christ’s risen body.

Jesus does this as our savior but remember the context. The power
which Jesus demonstrates in changing Paul, you, and me into himself is
cosmic in origin and intent. Paul is acutely aware of division in the
body of Christ. Indeed, it is a key concern of the entire letter and
reminds his people that this power is directed to bringing all

Our world is divided into warring factions, which can be seen
everywhere from Ukraine to our own subway system. Particularly painful
are the divisions in the church. The forces rending us apart seem so
strong but what are they in comparison with the power that brings all
things into “subjection to himself”?

That which unites us is greater than anything that can divide us,
because he who brings us together created and redeemed us.