A LESSON IN COMPASSION AND FORGIVENESS
Fifth Sunday of Lent (C)
My dear encountered couples:
During presidential elections, there are people spending a lot of time trying to dig up dirt. Some are even paid huge salaries to find hidden secrets that can be used against political contenders. If a possible skeleton, a scandal can be uncovered to ruin the reputation of an opponent, to put him or her out of the race, some will devote all their time and energy to uncovering it - and as soon as they can, to publicize it, to bring it to public attention. How many hopeful candidates because of embarrassing incidents in their lives have withdrawn their names from ballots during the over two hundred years of our country’s existence is probably beyond anyone’s capability to calculate.
Scandal, especially sexual scandal, has brought down many. People with both excellent and not so excellent qualities and good intentions are every day being judged, condemned, and sent off into obscurity by the press and the public.
But it is not merely political candidates or governmental appointees who are our targets. It is anyone who is rich, famous, or powerful. It is anyone we might find to be an obstacle or an annoyance in our lives. It might be our boss, our teacher, our coworker, a fellow student, our pastor. It might be a club member, a choir member, maybe even a bowling partner or a golf partner whose secrets we would like to make public, whose reputation we would like to hurt for whatever reason. It might even be a member of our own family whom we would like to get even with for something we have never forgiven them for.
Members of the human race — that’s us - seem to get some sort of sadistic thrill out of throwing stones at other members of the human race. We seem to enjoy uncovering and laying bear for all to view, not only the secret lives, but also the momentary mistakes made by others. DO IT TO THEM BEFORE THEY DO IT TO YOU. That seems to be the way we have rewritten the Golden Rule. Why do you suppose so many of us do that?
Today’s gospel reading is never out of style. It remains, and always will remain appropriate to be read and told many times to every generation that is born into our world. It is especially good for those of us who have an insatiable appetite for throwing stones at others. “Teacher,” the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus. “This woman has been caught in the act of adultery. In the law, Moses ordered such women to be stoned. What do you have to say about the case?” We all know the answer Jesus gave. “Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her.”
If you had been there as one of those scribes and Pharisees, if you had been standing around as on onlooker, what would you have done? We are told that all the people there walked away: “The audience drifted away one by one, beginning with the elders.” It seems Jesus must have said something that hit home. They were all sinners. Like we, too are all sinners.
What makes any of us think we have the right to throw stones at any other person when we really are no better than they? Oh, we might not be committing the same type of sin they are, but we all know we have committed some type of sin, maybe even much more grievous ones than the person we’re ready to throw a stone at.
Maybe the scribes and Pharisees never committed adultery like the woman they were accusing, but we have evidence right from the mouth of Jesus several times that they were committing worse sins than adultery by their lack of love towards the people of Israel. “Let the man among you who has no sin,” Jesus said, “be the first to cast a stone at her.” None of the scribes and Pharisees threw a stone. Our country has legitimately elected and appointed judges and legally selected juries. Trials are held to determine guilt or non-guilt, judgments are made, sentences are handed down. There are crimes against society and against individuals that we bring to court.
This is necessary. I doubt that Jesus was condemning such a system. We do it for the common good, for the safety and protection of everyone. In spite of the fact that our court system makes its share of mistakes and people are sometimes misjudged and condemned for crimes they didn’t commit, some such system must be employed. But if all of us who have committed sin were brought to trial, you can be sure we’d all have our day in court. And we know it. We’d all have cause to hang our heads in shame.
If you are legally a judge, if you are called for jury service, you are expected to do your duty in court and administer justice. But outside of court we all must learn to be very careful with the part we play when it comes to the reputations of others. Many a life has been destroyed by people who didn’t get facts straight; many a life has been destroyed by people who exposed even truthful facts that nobody other than God had any business to know about.
We talk and laugh about what we read in supermarket tabloids. Such publications, however, when taken seriously can do much more harm to an individual than a truckload of rocks. Woe to those who write such garbage! Woe to us who believe it and make unkind and rash judgments of others from what it says.
We must be very careful what we believe and what we say about other people. We must try to understand even when an accusation is proved, just as we would like to be understood when some wrong is proved against us. We must learn what the word “mercy” means, the kind of mercy we would plead for if caught doing some of the things we do.
NO HUMAN BEING IS PERFECT! We must never forget that. No human being is perfect. We all sin; we all make some really dumb mistakes. That includes you. And as surprising as this might sound to you: It even includes me! I guess even I have a fault or two.
Jesus was seated in the temple area teaching the people gathered around him. Who should interrupt his teaching but some scribes and Pharisees dragging a woman along with them and pushing her in front of Jesus! “Teacher,” they said to him. “This woman has been caught in the act of adultery. In the law, Moses ordered such women to be stoned. What do you have to say about the case?” Jesus looked at them and said, “Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her.”
The audience drifted away one by one, beginning with the elders. I think we had better do the same.