“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8:7).
As these words came forth from the mouth of Jesus, there must have been a deafening stillness. A mob had gathered around a woman seeking to stone her for being caught in the act of adultery. Had this woman actually been caught in the “very act”? Were there those that were scheming so scrupulously that they would spy on her at that moment, or like our first reading from the Book of Daniel was this a false accusation because the woman refused the advancement of someone who wanted to commit adultery with her and she refused? Either way, Jesus helped to restore the dignity of this woman by showing the common shortcoming of our fallen humanity.
Today’s Gospel account from John helps us to come to terms with the reality that we are all unified in the reality that we all fall short of the glory of God that we were originally created for. Fortunately, there was no one present who thought himself so self-righteous that he had not committed any sin. All left and only Jesus and the woman remained. It was only then that he spoke to her.
Jesus’ goal for each person he encounters is that we come to terms with our own sin, to repent and believe in the Gospel. Yet, he does so not by condemning us but by showing us how we are off the mark and bestowing his mercy and love upon us. In this way, he guides us to the path that will lead to what is truly good, not the false allures of apparent goods that may glitter at the moment, but then fade.
Jesus does not define us by our worst mistakes, but he does not want us to remain in our sin. By doing so, we are separating ourselves from a more real and intimate relationship with God and one another. Jesus is about healing those aspects of our choices, behaviors, habits, prejudices, and vices that keep us separated. Lent is a more intense period where we make the time to become more aware of that which separates us and in humility admit to and confess these patterns of behavior so that through the love and mercy of God and in collaboration with him, we can be transformed.
May we examine our conscience, call to mind those areas in which we have fallen short of the glory of God in our lives, where we have sinned, and with humility share them with Jesus. In this way, we with the woman caught in adultery may also hear his words, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (Jn 8:11). As we find healing and come to a better place of wholeness, we need to resist the urge to look at others as scapegoats. We are all interconnected and need to stand up for and speak on behalf of the dignity of one other.
The recent escalation in negative rhetoric, violence, hate crimes, and deaths committed against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders is wrong. Those perpetrating these acts must be held accountable but we also must pray and work to transform hearts and minds to help those with hatred in their hearts to experience the dignity of those they would seek to harm. As Bruce Lee said in an interview, “under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family.” Isolation can be a poison that breeds contempt and indifference. We need to be willing to encounter one another in our differences, engage in dialogue with each other, and then we will begin to see each other as human, begin to build relationships, and recognize each other as family.
Photo: After Thomas Merton and HH Dalai Lama met after one of their three meetings in November 1968.