“Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do you say?’ This they said, testing him, that they might have something of which to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with his finger, as though he did not hear. So when they continued asking him, he raised himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ And again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised himself up and saw no one but the woman, he said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’” (Jn 8: 3-11)
I’m thinking of our reaction, in modern-day Western society, when someone in our public eye is “caught in adultery,” or “in the very act” of some other sex-related sin. I’m not talking about criminal acts like rape and domestic violence, but about sexual missteps that are morally reprehensible, but not legally actionable, as in the case of Monica Lewinsky, or the comedian Luis CK, or of the politician Anthony Weiner. We do not physically stone the culprits to death, but we quite readily bombard them with our collective outcry, mostly on social media, to the point that the culprit’s name and career is erased from the public sphere, with no hope for redemption, regardless of their very-public apologies or explanations. (Differently from the situation in the passage quoted above, and differently from certain predominantly-Muslim countries, where stoning-for-adultery is still practiced, our Western-style “verbal stoning” is usually unleashed on men, and only rarely on women.) In our once-“christianized” Western world, I think we no longer hear the voice of our Redeemer, appealing to the “conscience” of our “public eye,” which itself may have a “log” or a “beam” in it (Mt 7: 3-5), and calling us to take pause, lay down our stones, and consider, “who is without sin among you”?
Why does Christ call us to take note of our own sins, in these situations? It’s not because “two wrongs make a right.” It’s rather because, while our “eye” is blinded by the “log” in it, we can’t say, as He does to this adultress, “Go and sin no more,” empowering her to do so by His grace-filled word. All we have to offer, in our unreflectingly-angry lack of self-awareness, is death-bringing stones, which can only destroy, but can’t empower anyone to do better. Thank You, Lord, for not “condemning” us, as we so often do one another, but empowering us to do better, by Your compassionate and grace-filled Word.