Catholics are good at guilt. Politicians are liers. Canadians are polite. Americans are aggressive and loud. The French are great cooks. Toronto is a city of great hockey teams. We have many stereotypes in life, some good, some bad. None of them is accurate. It is easy to take some trait or quality and apply it widely to a whole group. But it is obvious that such stereotyping is not true. Catholics are not filled with guilt. Many politicians are honest and caring. Americans are often quiet and peaceful. I have known people from France who are terrible cooks. Toronto, well…what can we say? Stereotypes present a false picture of reality. Often these stereotypes stem from our human tendency to define someone or some group by a single incident or characteristic, ignoring all else.
The same is true when we characterize a person by a single trait or just one aspect or incident of their life. One thing does not capture the reality of the whole person. To see a person as identified by a single trait, action or incident creates a false view of who that person is. Every person is more than a single trait or incident. This is the challenge issued in the story told in John’s Gospel (John 8:1-11), to see every person as God sees each of us – with mercy.
The scribes and the Pharisees bring before Jesus a woman who has been caught in the act of adultery, making her stand before the people and Jesus. Citing the law of Moses, they condemn her to death for this act. They question Jesus, asking: “What do you say?” His response is to tell them that the one who is without sin should throw the first stone. They melt away and Jesus is left alone with the woman. No one is left to condemn her. Jesus tells her that he does not condemn her either. She is told: “Go your way and from now on do not sin again.”
We condemn easily. Worse, both as a society and as persons, we hold sins over others and ourselves perpetually. So often we define others, individuals and groups, by their sin or failing. It seems we cannot let go of what they or we have done. We and our world so readily imprison people and groups in the sins, the missteps, the bad decisions of their past. We are all more than our blunders.
Jesus’ refusal to condemn the woman is a revelation that there is no condemnation in God. This is the message that Jesus proclaims when he announces that Reign of God. He calls us into a world of change. It is a world where there is no condemnation. The judgement of God is a judgement of mercy. It liberates from the prisons in which we place ourselves and others. It offers hope. It is the way to new life marked by mercy, compassion, openness and inclusion of all.
Question ~ What must I do to let go of that old world and enter the Reign of God?