No Throwing Stones!
Lenten penance nears its end and Easter joy is in sight, I find that two of my predominant emotions are anger and bewilderment. I am not very happy with the state of the world today.
Among the things I am most angered by is a culture of condemnation. What I mean by a culture of condemnation is the almost universal need to play personal judge and jury especially to those in most need of mercy and redemption.
It isn’t hard to play the judgment game. We do it all the time. I am not talking about the judgment levied by courts on criminals. I am talking about my judgment of anybody who looks, acts, thinks, or believes differently from me. I am talking about the judgment that makes no room for diversity, personal freedom, or differences of opinion.
What bewilders me a great deal and is what I call the judgment of denial. Facts are facts and opinions are opinions, but when opinions run counter to facts and the opinions win, that is the judgment of denial.
There is also the judgment that takes place in an atmosphere of “he said—she said” journalism that replaces a search for truth with a series of counterbalanced personal opinions on both Unknownsides of an issue. Instead of trying to discover what really happened, we read more random opinions related as fact. Instead of understanding reality, judgment becomes a matter of taking sides.
Absent grace, mercy, and truth, the culture of condemnation and the judgment of denial seem most active during a political season, and this political season is filled to the brim with both. They are not limited to politics, however, and they are manifest in aspects of interpersonal relationships from bullying to racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual bias. It seems sometimes that folks walk around feeling the heft of a rock in their hands and are all too ready to cast the first stone.
Come Sunday, the Eucharistic liturgy features another great Gospel of mercy—the tale of the woman taken in adultery. The story is clear. A trap is set for Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees dragged a woman caught in the act of adultery before him. The Law said she should be stoned to death for this crime. If Jesus shows her mercy, he breaks the Law. If he agrees to her stoning, he shows his true colors and all his love and acceptance of others would be severely undermined.
Jesus evaded the trap by offering mercy to both sides. After doodling mysteriously on the ground, Jesus said:
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
Jesus did not deny the woman’s sin. But in place of execution he offered mercy and the challenge to change and avoid future sin. He also gave the scribes and Pharisees the chance to acknowledge their own sin and wrongdoing and to walk quietly away with Jesus’ graciousness and mercy following them home.
The challenge of the Jubilee of Mercy, it seems to me, is to have that mind in us that is also in Christ Jesus to be gracious and merciful. We need to look at what the Lord has done for us. We need to put down those stones and fight the culture of condemnation and the judgment of denial. And the result will be true Easter joy!
As the responsorial psalm says: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”