By KATIE GROSS
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery
and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him,
“Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Ever since Pope Francis made his now famous statement, “Who am I to judge?,” the concept of judgment has been a buzzword among Christians and the media. Some claim that the Holy Father is trying to move the Church in a modern direction. Others fiercely disagree. However, what we as Catholics must realize is that Pope Francis isn’t saying anything that isn’t in accord with what we already know from the Bible. In today’s Mass readings, we get the full summation of what Scripture actually says about judgment: that we simply can’t do it.
“O eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things before they come to be…” In today’s first reading from the book of Daniel, we hear the story of Susanna, who was another Biblical woman “caught” in adultery. In actuality, Susanna was falsely accused by two wicked old men who were trying to cover up their own sin. However, as it usually is, the people immediately condemned Susanna based on the word of the elders—they did not permit her to explain the circumstances behind her alleged sin. Even today, we usually do not listen to the circumstances when a person is being publically shamed. We as Christians must remember that sin can be incredibly complex. Serious sin is often committed under pressure. Add this together with our inclination to sin and the general societal numbness to sin, and it becomes all too easy to make mistakes. When we see a person who is being publically shamed, we as Christians must resist joining in. We must look at the situation with compassion, understanding that there were probably many factors which led to that person’s poor decision. Jesus knows the heart of every person—we do not.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. One of my theology teachers once told the class an interesting theory: that in this scene, Jesus writing down the sins of the people in the crowd in the dust. I picture the entire crowd being shocked and embarrassed, appalled that anybody would call them out on their own sins.
One of the catechists that I volunteer with always tells the students that sin is a “failure to love.” Under this definition, there is no room for somebody to claim that they are “less sinful” than another, because that would be to say that they are “less of a failure.” Think of this analogy: two students are having a conversation. One says he got a 42 on his calculus test. The other boasts proudly that he got a 68. Of course, his would never happen. Failure, no matter to what degree, is never something to be proud of. In the same way, the Catechism defines sin as “spiritual death.” You wouldn’t boast that you were “less dead” than another.
So, in short, we must always remember two things: that there are circumstances behind every sin, and that we are no better than any other sinner. Remembering these things will not only make us more merciful people, but also help us to grow in humility.