'Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!'
Here we are, in the home stretch of Lent, a breath away from Holy Week. Every successive Sunday the readings push us forward -- closer to the culminating events that define us as Christians. Week by week, we take another step toward Jerusalem, toward the table, the cross, and the empty tomb. And Mass after Mass, we are reminded of all that has come before, all that has prepared the way of suffering to become the path to glory.
We have been told of John the baptizer and the temptations Jesus faced in the desert. We have listened to how God made a covenant with Abram, and how he met Moses in the burning bush. We have climbed the mountain with Peter, James, and John and seen Jesus shining with the glory that belongs to the only-begotten Son of God. And we have celebrated Passover with Joshua and followed him into the Promised Land. Each story recounts a piece of salvation history. Each one reminds us that God's grace has been with us all along.
Memories are powerful. When we are tired and down, when the road ahead is uncertain and long, remembering what God has done in the past can give us hope. God does not leave us in the lurch. His faithfulness, after all, really does endure forever; the history of his chosen people attests to that. I'd venture the story of every one of our lives does, too.
That is why this week's readings seem so strange. Recalling the great deeds of God, Isaiah prophesies, "Thus says the Lord, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters, who leads out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army, till they lie prostrate together, never to rise, snuffed out like a wick." God then continues with an unexpected instruction: "Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" St. Paul, in what is likely his final letter from prison in Rome, writes similarly to the Philippians. "Just one thing: 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."
It seems there is a time to remember the past and a time to forget it. On the cusp of divine initiative, recalling our previous experience of God's power and goodness may actually hinder our ability to perceive what is springing forth. What we've come to expect may limit the new thing God is doing, the thing beyond our expectations, the thing too wonderful to imagine.
This is what Jesus reveals in how he addresses the scribes and Pharisees when they bring him the woman caught in adultery. Those who are quick to accuse and punish her do so by remembering the law of Moses, but forgetting the sins of their own past. Jesus turns their self-righteousness on its head by writing in the sand and reminding them of their own need for mercy. "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." When they drop the stones and leave, Jesus does not ask the woman about her sins. Instead, he breaks her out of her past and speaks only of her future. "Go, and from now on do not sin any more."
As we prepare for Holy Week, let's remember to forget the past -- not ours, and not God's either. Let's walk forward in freedom, and give God unrestricted latitude to do something new in our lives, something even more wonderful and more glorious than ever before.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.