Sunday: Lent on the Mount of Olives

This Sunday’s Gospel (the Fifth Sunday of Lent) is the story of the woman caught in adultery, and a clue to the whole reading is in the first two sentences: “Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the Temple area.” 

Why doesn’t the Gospel just start with his arrival in the Temple area? Because it is important to the story that he went to the Mount of Olives the night before.

The Mount of Olives is where the agony in the garden will take place. It’s a place associated in the Gospel with Christ taking our sins on himself and choosing to suffer for us.

The implication here is that Jesus was in the Mount of Olives, doing one of his all-night prayer vigils precisely while the woman was committing adultery. So, that night, three things were going on.

1)     The Pharisees were somehow staking out the place where the woman was sinning or spying, such that they were catching her at it (but not trying to prevent her).

2)     A woman was committing adultery.

3)     Jesus was in prayer all night in the garden where he would say “Yes” to the Father and take all of their sins on himself.

So that’s the background to the confrontation between the Pharisees and the woman and Jesus. When they drag her in front of them, he is the only one who has already dedicated serious time to the rehabilitation of all involved.

“Now in the law,” they tell him, “Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

He answers: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 

But Jesus is himself the only one in the group who is without sin — and while we can imagine the Pharisees stoning a woman caught in adultery, it is impossible for us to imagine Jesus throwing a stone at her. Real holy people don’t hate sinners or feel threatened by them.

But of course, real holy people are also utterly different from the adulterous woman. Real holy people don’t indulge in selfish behavior, they neither sin nor wallow in others’ sin.

So, what are real holy people like? According to the story, a “real holy person”:

1)     Says Yes to the difficult task of serving others, even at personal expense.

2)     Avoids sin.

3)     Prays for sinners (as opposed to obsessing about them).

The Church presents this reading in the Fifth Week of Lent for a number of reasons, but we could consider just one: It allows us to use the remaining time of Lent avoiding those things that are not holy and doing those things which are.

In order that would mean, not being the Pharisees, focusing on others’ faults and sizing up others’ fidelity; rather, find ways to serve and help them. It also means not being like the woman caught in adultery, who went to the place (and the person) that leads her to sin. But rather, use your time watching and praying as Jesus does.

Jesus started Lent in the desert and here he finishes in the Mount of Olives. He started all alone and ends in close solidarity with sinners. Meet him there.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.