Public Sinners

“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7

This is a powerful line spoken by Jesus. The judgmental and condemning Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had apparently been caught “in the very act of committing adultery.” Was she a sinner? Yes, indeed she was. But this story is not so much about whether or not she was a sinner. It was about the attitude Jesus had toward sinners as compared to that held by the self-righteous, judgmental and condemning Pharisees.

First of all, let’s look at this woman. She was humiliated. She had committed sin, was caught, and was publicly presented to all as a sinner. How did she react? She didn’t resist. She didn’t remain in denial. She didn’t get angry. She didn’t fight back. Instead, she stood there humiliated, awaiting her punishment with a sorrowful heart.

Humiliation over one’s sins is a powerful experience that has the potential to bring forth true repentance. When we encounter someone who has sinned in a manifest way and is humiliated over their sin, we must treat them with compassion. Why? Because the dignity of the person always supersedes their sin. Every person is made in the image and likeness of God, and every person deserves our compassion. If one is obstinate and refuses to see their sin (such as in the case of the Pharisees), then an act of holy rebuke is necessary to help them repent. But when one experiences sorrow and, in this case, the added experience of humiliation, then they are ready for compassion.

By stating “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” Jesus is not justifying her sin. Rather, He’s making it clear that no one holds the right of condemnation. No one. Not even the religious leaders. This is a hard teaching to live for many in our world today. It is commonplace for the headlines in the media to almost compulsively present us with the most sensational sins of others. We are constantly being tempted to be outraged at what this or that person has done. We easily shake our heads, condemn them and treat them as if they were dirt. In fact, it seems that many people today see it as their duty to act as the “watchdogs” against every sin they can dig up on others.

Reflect, today, upon whether you are more like the Pharisees or Jesus. Would you have stood there in the crowd wanting this humiliated woman to be stoned? How about today? When you hear about the manifest sins of others, do you find yourself to be condemning of them? Or do you hope that mercy is shown to them? Seek to imitate the compassionate heart of our divine Lord; and when your time of judgment comes, you also will be shown an abundance of compassion.

My merciful Lord, You see past our sin and look to the heart. Your love is infinite and awe-inspiring. I thank You for the compassion You have shown to me, and I pray that I may always imitate that same compassion to every sinner all around me. Jesus, I trust in You.

Seek to imitate the compassionate heart of our divine Lord; and when your time of judgment comes, you also will be shown an abundance of compassion.