God's followers should integrate Yahweh's words from the first reading this weekend (Isaiah 43:16-21) into their morning prayers: "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?"

Years ago, in a "60 Minutes" interview, Duke Ellington bemoaned how some in his concert audiences treated him. "They always want me to play my songs from the '30s and '40s," he remarked, "exactly as I recorded them in the '30s and '40s. If I change just one note, they complain. They don't appreciate the music I'm writing and playing now."

Ricky Nelson said something similar in his 1972 hit song, "Garden Party." Reacting to how he thought the crowd had received him during a Madison Square "oldies" concert, he penned the words, "If memories were all I sang, I'd rather drive a truck."

Old and new

Isaiah's audiences could easily relate to Ellington's and Nelson's audiences. They knew all about Yahweh's glory days -- the liberation from Egypt, the miraculous crossing of the sea, the conquering of Canaan.

They heard those events repeated over and over again. Grounded and supported by such narratives of Yahweh's past deeds, they were unable to notice the new things He was accomplishing for them during the Babylonian Exile.

The God who once "opened a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters" was now creating a way for the Chosen People in the wasteland lying between Babylon and Israel. Yet no one noticed, because it wasn't an exact repeat of what Yahweh accomplished during the Exodus 700 years earlier.

St. Paul, in the second reading (Philippians 3:8-14), also had to go through a period of adjusting to the new way God had entered in his life in the person of the risen Jesus. His reflections of that experience have echoed in Christian ears for almost 2,000 years.

"I consider everything as a loss," he writes the Philippian community, "because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord....It is not that I have already taken hold of [the Resurrection] 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 Jesus,...forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead."

The Apostle presumed God would work in his life through the risen Jesus in ways completely different from how God worked in the past.

New ways

In the Gospel (John 8:1-11), we see Jesus demonstrate a new way of God's relating to sinners. No longer is it "you did the crime, now you do the time." God goes beyond punishing and leads us down the uncharted road of forgiveness.

This narrative of the woman taken in the act of adultery makes almost everyone's top-ten list of favorite biblical passages. After 20 centuries, it still gives comfort to sinners and guilty consciences to the "good folk."

Its punch line -- "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her!" -- has deeply embedded itself into our faith and culture.

Jesus' exchange with the sinful woman is a constant reminder to His followers that He's also "doing something new." He never stops at the boundaries that Christian churches and theologians set for Him.

(3/22/07)