An Ideal Husband is not how I might describe myself in the personal ads of a social media-dating site. It is the title of a play by the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. Some years past a former parishioner of mine kick started a very successful acting career in the Pitlochry Theatre Festival, playing the lead female character and uttered for me the unforgettable line to her male counter part,
“Even you are not rich enough, Sir Robert, to buy back your past. No man is.”
I knew in that moment that I heard a line spoken in literature that would remain with me forever.
No person, however rich, can buy back the past.
Many of us, rich or otherwise, would like to buy back the past or even just turn back the clock so we could undo a past mistake. But it cannot be done.
Perhaps that may make us feel as if we are prisoners of the past, held fast behind bars that cannot be seen.
No we are not. For we may not be able to buy back the past, but nonetheless we are not its prisoners. Christ has redeemed the past, your personal past with all our mistakes and hurts.
In a general way, Isaiah proclaims to Israel,
No need to recall the past,
To think about what was done before. Then he speaks of new ways, of roads even in the wilderness that people and nations make of their lives.
Jesus personalizes this whole theme in the gospel. Scribes and Pharisees want to a stone a woman to death because of her past. In their eyes, she is only the sum of the past, a common sinner who deserves condemnation. For him she is a woman who, like all of us, has made mistakes. He frees her from her past and reminds the onlookers that we too have pasts that need to be dealt with.
In Lenten times certainly we do penance to make amends for our sins, but we are not to be wallowing in self-pity or shame; rather, we are joyful because of the Lord’s love, complete mercy and forgiveness which frees us from our pasts and cleanses us of our sins.