Faith seeking understanding, my personal journey towards a deeper knowledge of and intimacy with God, the cosmos, humanity and myself through thoughts, words and (occasionally) images, is a series of [hopefully] daily reflections I’m writing with the purpose of publishing something on a regular basis for others to read, either here, at joncarllewis.com or among my writings at Medium.com.
Today, I was struck by the gospel from the daily office, John 7:53—8:11, which recounts the story of the woman who was caught in the act of committing adultery and was hauled before Jesus by the scribes and the Pharisees. It is an interesting story, quite dramatic, and it raises interesting questions on all levels, not the least of which being why this story doesn’t appear in the oldest manuscripts and has been found in some manuscripts to have been placed in the gospel according to Luke rather than its conventional placement in the gospel according to John.
But there are enough lessons within the story to justify its preservation, I think. The response of Jesus doesn’t seem inconsistent with his portrayals across the four gospels, and the lesson of “anyone among you who is without sin” throwing the first stone is a good one to take to heart, even though it is honored in the breach more often than in the observance. This is the lesson which speaks to me most strongly. It brings to mind all the times I have judged—and continue to judge other people for the most minor infractions of norms or even style (let alone activities which actually break the law). It seems like a simple lesson: don’t throw stones at others when you might deserve to have stones thrown at yourself. But I think there is a deeper lesson here, also.
It has to do with the part of the story where Jesus writes on the ground and the men go away, one by one, starting with the elders. We are not told what Jesus wrote but, whatever he wrote, I imagine that the elders, having lived longer, had the most to remember. Sins do tend to accrue over time. As do things that might not necessarily be sin, but of which one might be ashamed. But what speaks to me is the notion of mindfulness. Jesus doesn’t come out and say, “You’re not worthy to judge this woman.” Instead, he calls the scribes and the Pharisees to become mindful of their own history.
And this is the lesson I take from this scripture today: when one is mindful of one’s own sins, one’s own missteps, one’s own mistakes, one’s own falling short, it might not just move us to refrain from judging others but may also arouse in ourselves a compassion borne of humility. Humility in the sense that we, truly are no better than anybody else, if the truth be known. Compassion in the sense that, knowing our own shortcomings, compassion is what we would want someone to offer to ourselves.
So, this calls me to compassion. I hope I get there or at least keep moving in the right direction. I’ll need to be compassionate myself on this journey: we are sometimes most judgmental of ourselves, and, I suspect, that the most judgmental are those who judge themselves by the harshest standard. So, it might be the most compassionate thing we can do to have compassion on ourselves. But first this requires humility. And that requires that we be mindful of ourselves at least as much as we are mindful of the lives of others.
Thank you for your time and attention.
I’d love to know your thoughts on what you’ve read.
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May God richly bless you on your journey.