Sin not sinners...
I say entertaining in a rather ironic sense, since in the post I argued for looking at the sin not the sinner, and resisting the temptation to speculate as to people's motives for why they did what they did. In particular we should, in my view, without being naive, look for the best possible slant, not the worst!
That didn't stop my respondent from speculating as to my and my readers motives, and not by way of thinking the best of us!
Still, he or she did raise one of those furphies often raised by liberals so I thought I would take the chance to put it to rest.
Carob Molasses argues that in pointing out public sins, or challenging the orthodoxy of what others write, traditionalists and conservatives are 'casting the first stone'. I think not.
Let's take a little look at the Scriptural passage in question.
The woman taken in adultery
The relevant passage comes from St John 8.
The first and most important to note is that the issue at stake is not whether or not she should be publicly corrected for having sinned, but whether she should be subject to summary capital punishment:
"And Jesus went unto mount Olivet. 2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple: and all the people came to him. And sitting down he taught them. 3 And the scribes and Pharisees bring unto him a woman taken in adultery: and they set her in the midst, 4 and said to him: Master, this woman was even now taken in adultery. 5 Now Moses in the law commanded us to stone such a one. But what do you say?
The second point to note is the motives of the scribes and Pharisees. They are we told, out to try and trap Jesus, to test his claim that he comes to fulfill the law not destroy it in the face of his message of mercy:
6 And this they said tempting him, that they might accuse him. But Jesus bowing himself down, wrote with his finger on the ground.
What they got instead was the finger of God - the same hand that gave them the law in the first place - writing. Was he inscribing their sins? Was he suggesting that the law had been turned to dust in their over-rigorous hands? Or was he perhaps writing a new law which superseded the old?
In the Old Law, after all, just as in modern Islam, the people as a whole had a right to exact immediate justice (hence the various unsuccessful attempts to stone Jesus, and the successful stoning of St Stephen for blasphemy). There was no effective distinction between civil and religious law (save to the extent that it was imposed on the Jews by civil powers such as the Romans). But Christ instead instituted as a separation of powers of a sort, entrusting the power for sins to be judged and forgiven to his priests.
Then comes the core of the message, which seems to me a version of the golden rule: that we should be wary of punishing others, lest we likewise punished ourselves. It is surely the same message as the parable of the unjust steward, who, forgiven from a debt himself is merciless to his subordinates:
"7 When therefore they continued asking him, he lifted up himself and said to them: He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. 8 And again stooping down, he wrote on the ground."
St Augustine points out that the self-assessment that the Lord then invites those present to undertake may relate very specifically to this particular sin, viz adultery. Jesus, in other words, was pointing out the double standard involved in the proposed stoning of the woman when nothing is said of the man caught with her:
9 But they hearing this, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest.
The final section of the chapter reminds us that Jesus' mission on earth was to bring redemption, to act as the good physician and cure us:
And Jesus alone remained, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 Then Jesus lifting up himself, said to her: Woman, where are they that accused you? Has no man condemned you? 11 Who said: No man, Lord. And Jesus said: Neither will I condemn you.
Is our Lord truly suspending judgment though? He goes on to say:
Go, and now sin no more.
St Augustine comments on this passage:
"What is this, O Lord? Do you therefore favor sins? Not so, evidently, mark what follows: "Go and sin no more." Therefore the Lord did also condemn, but condemned sins, not the sinner..."
St Augustine goes on to point out that while Our Lord's mission on earth was redemption, he will return again as the just judge. He is long suffering, and full of pity, St Augustine tells us,
"But most fearful is what comes last, "He is true." For those he now bears with as sinners, he will judge as despisers...".
And that's why amongst the spiritual works of mercy, included in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we can still find the injunctions to:
1. Counsel the doubtful
2. Instruct the ignorant
3. Admonish sinners....
No frothing at the mouth, Carob Molasses and friends, just genuine concern for the fate of our fellow men and women!