Judgment and Compassion

Re: John 7:59-8:11

…Wait for me! Sorry I’m a little behind.

I have been letting this passage sink in a little. While I have heard this story many times growing up, it seems to be settling a little differently for me, now. I notice I am struggling a bit with the phrasing, the implications, and Jesus’ response.

Like Chrystal and Marjorie, I noticed the lack of a guilty man in this story. The fact that the Jewish leaders had already disregarded the law by arresting the woman without the man annoyed me. According to Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22, the law required that both parties to adultery be stoned. It seems that the leaders were using the woman as a trap so they could trick Jesus: if he said the woman should not be stoned, they could accuse him of violating Moses’ law. If he promoted executing the woman, they could report him to the Romans, who did not permit the Jews to carry out their own executions.

Jesus, implicitly in his answer, upholds the legal penalty for adultery – stoning, and therefore could not be accused of being against the law. While he suggested that only a sinless person could cast stones, he implies that none are without sin. In biblical days, this response represented great compassion and forgiveness. Today, it sounds so different. Then, it sounded compassionate and non judgemental, today it sounds judgemental, with its implication that the woman has indeed sinned (a judgement), and that it is their job to punish her. This whole story got me to thinking about the ways the church has carried down these values of sin and punishment, judgement and control. Based on Biblical scripture, we buy into the fact that we are all sinners, that this woman was a sinner, (again, where is the man?) and the church’s role seems to be to keep us all in line. “Go and sin no more.” This implies the woman did sin, and is being ordered to mend her way. With stories like this, we are drawn away from the wonderful “Kindgom of God is within you” kind of message, and taught to hate ourselves and to think of ourselves as sinners, not worthy of God’s presence. What is the usefulness of this “sinners all’ message?

On the other hand, I also love the image, the suggestion, and the example of compassion. To feel compassion, we must turn away from our own focus on happiness to sense the true condition of others honestly facing their pain. This open-hearted empathy for the suffering of others includes the wish to see them free from suffering. Jesus thus exemplifies compassion.

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8 responses

  1. Meredith, I agree with you that there’s entirely too much sin talk and guilt inducement in our religious life. But sin as a theological construct is something else again.The meaning of sin is falling short of the glory of God, being something less than perfect. In the course of spiritual awakening the awareness of this is the beginning. It’s like AA; you have to hit bottom (although bottom is different for every person). For me there was a dawning awareness of the meaninglessness of life without God. That led to enlightenment.The Catholics speak of it as the happy sin, with that understanding, I believe. To put it a little differently as long as you feel sufficient in yourself and satisfied with who you are and where you are, there’s no movement. I believe we all need movement– to evolve, grow up, and this is dependent upon the realization that we are stuck, not growing up. That’s the awareness of sin!

  2. Ahh – this is an entirely differnt way of looking at what sin is – as the little jump start needed to begin living an enriched life. I get this. Obviously I was thinking of sin as wrong-doing by the law or the church’s definition. I like your definition much better. In your example, sin is more like our motivation, igniting our inward drive to grow and to spiritually evolve, to lean into the light.A friend recently shared this definition of sin with me: Sin is that which fosters fear, and virtue is that which fosters love. Naturally, this feels right to me, too! It seems much more natural to me to foster love as a jump start or invitation to the spiritual life, than to focus on fear. However, I recognize that fear, or a feeling of meaninglessnss, or of discontentment are each powerful motivators.If we read this passage in John with these definitions in mind, does the story make sense? Is it possible to be ordered to “go and sin no more” as in go and do not fall from perfection, do not foster fear, do not experience meaninglessness, do not remain stuck, do not stop growing toward the light?Though I would soften this language as an invitation, I would answer, “Yes.” Thank you dear Friend.

  3. Hi Meredith. I know what you mean about the word “sin” and the idea that we are all sinners. I hate that word – it reminds me of my great aunt Alberta who belived in a mean-spirited god who spent all his time smiting people. :-)But maybe sin has to do with a lack of love .. of others and even of oneself (and God too). If you lie and cheat and hurt (adultery), are you treating others the way you would want to be treated, are you loving them the way God loves you? Are you giving yourself the life you deserve as the beloved of God? Maybe that’s why Jesus said to go and sin no more. Just my take on it, somewhat skewed, I’m sure, by the fact my ex-husband had an affair šŸ˜¦

  4. Crystal,Thank you for this definition as well – sin as a lack of love. I hadn’t thought about sin this way, either. I see now that I was holding a very narrow, literal view of sin. I am glad for this opportunity to expand my viewpoint. As God is experienced as love, sin can be experienced as the lack of love. I agree that it is possible, even likely that when Jesus said to “Go and sin no more” he was encouraging this woman to become the Beloved with God, instead, which is a life we all deserve. Thank you, my Friend!

  5. An interesting discussion on sin. As I’ve said before, the idea of sin doesn’t bother me at all because Jesus died so that we can be forgiven, I believe it has many spiritual implications beyond that, but thats a good starting point for me. We all make mistakes, we all do things that are wrong — we get up, dust ourselves off and try again — go out and sin no more.Adultery is a great sin to use because its in the 10 Commandments. Nowhere in the passage is it indicated that she was innocent of the charge despite the lack of a partner.What is sin? Like you all have said, falling short of God, lack of love. But I’d go ahead and say there are some clear sins — adultery, lying, murder. Doesn’t make the sinner any less human or deserving of God’s love, but wrong is wrong.

  6. I think its helpful to make a distinction between sins (plural) and sin (mass-noun).Sins are all those things we do that fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) as Larry points out. And as both Meredith and Crystal point out it has a lot to do with lack of love. We are going through a period of renogiating waht we used to think were sins. we are holding such things as not going to church, or living in a homosexual relationship accountable to the Law of Love and deciding they really aren’t sins after all.Sin. This is our separation form God. It isn’t what we do. It that yawning gulf between us and God. We tend to think of sins as causing that gulf. But maybe sins are all the things we do to avoid looking at it. If I get drunk maybe I won’t see that gaping hole in my spirit.Maybe the whole crucifixion thing wasn’t to pay the price for our sins – to buy God’s forgiveness. Maybe it was to get out attention. Remind us that as big as the gulf looks infinite love can (and does) cross it.

  7. I don’t know if we’re twisting ourselves into intellectual knots or if, once again, you are continuing on the train up the intellectual mountain while I’ve gotten off at Mediocrity Depot. Regardless…I think there are sins and there is no need to explain them — like murder and adultry and lying. Maybe I’ll even cling to the Big 10 in an effort to avoid the elephant David brought into the room…homosexuality. Is it a sin? I’ve grappled with this because the issue has been thrust on all Eps in the form of what to do with an openly gay bishop. My personal view of homosexuality is that God loves them. Love is a beautiful thing, I think, and I don’t care what the genders are of the respective parties. Is it a sin? Well, scripture gives us a bit of a challenge on that one. We either reject those verses and start down the slippery slope of cutting and pasting to make scripture what we want (like Jefferson, right?) or, the path I have taken is to say, okay, its a sin and so is everything else, we’re all sinners and can’t judge one another. Pride is the number one sin on the Seven Deadly list and I’ve yet to meet a priest who wasn’t suffering from a good amount of that. Thats one thing about the Quakers that appeals to me, no priesthood, no sticky wickets on that issue.But you may make of sin what you want, I’m not of the notion that you must think like me. I suppose my point is that ‘sin’ need not be danced around or avoided. Like everything else, the church has twisted it into something it is not, a tool for power. I think sin may simply be a label used to explain the existence of evil, it starts with our choices to do our will and not God’s.

  8. Golly sakes. We are like a multifaceted crystal looking at all the angles of sin, and casting our individual light and understanding upon sin. I appreciate this dialogue very much. It looks like we have each been nudged to dig a little deeper on this topic.The sense I am getting is that sin is that which separates us from our beloved, the Ground of our being, our God and the Godliness within us. We see it in ourselves at times, and we see it in others. While historically the ‘church’ has taken on the role of identifying what sin is – hence the ‘Big Ten’ Marjorie mentions, we each know that isn’t the all of it, and perhaps that doesn’t even fit any of it for us. Perhaps what fundmentally keeps us from God is fear and suffering. And what is called for in response to fear and suffering, as demonstrated in the scripture we are responding to, is compassion. Pure compassion for ourselves, and for others. Compassion draws us back to God.

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