We have all heard the story of the woman caught in adultery who fell before Jesus at the point of being stoned under Mosaic law ( John 8:1-11). First, we know that those who brought this woman before Jesus were not really interested in the law, compassion, forgiveness or, for that matter, tolerance. Rather, they were intent on using a solemn law as a tool to trap Jesus, which one may argue is an evil in itself.
Thus, we have sinful, manipulative, and jealous men pretending to be noble enforcers of the law while using that same law for their own twisted agenda. In broader sense, in fact, we have sinful, unrepentant men accusing a repentant sinner and demanding her punishment to further their evil plans. The sheer, blatant audacity of this irony is breathtaking to say the least.
The woman’s accusers were pretending to champion the law while using the law as a mere tool, a toy to accomplish their dark plans. They were demanding respect for the process while disrespecting the process themselves. In short, they were hypocrites going into this confrontation.
Secondly, these men were demanding a perfect precision in the application of the law even while ignoring their own questionable and imprecise enforcement of the law.
Third, we should note how weak the mob’s moral ground truly was. We are thus reminded that God’s Divine Wisdom, justice and compassion cut through our human inconsistency, moral selectivity, and utter subjectivity in determining the direction and borders of our conduct.
Lastly, Jesus helped the woman get out of her legal and moral jam, but he followed that up by asking her to “sin no more.” Thus, one can disagree with the sinner, object to the sin, love the sinner and, yet, clearly not accept, much less embrace, their sin.
The two extremes are the stuff of fools. On one end, one cannot apply codes of conduct like a robot, devoid of compassion and forgiveness, given one’s own imperfections and need for understanding and mercy. On the other end, one can neither equate embracing and loving the sinner with embracing and loving the sin.
I can love drug addicts enough to help them without therefore embracing the sale of drugs. Loving thieves and prostitutes enough to help them does not imply that one honors or embraces theft or prostitution.
Message for Today
The story of the adulterous woman reminds us that we cannot pretend to uphold the law while merely using it for our selfish purposes. It reminds us that we need to clean our house before we start judging others’ houses unclean. However, perhaps its biggest lesson is in its simple yet profound application of true tolerance.
In this context, tolerance implies that we respect the individual enough to let each person express his or her views without fear of reprisal or consequences. We must also respect conduct as long as that conduct does not violate the social order and common good. However, we cannot ever expect or demand tolerance of all ideas.
It is a fact of common sense and rational thought that not all ideas are equal in worth and value to our society. Some ideas are plain silly, ignorant, misinformed, mindless, selfish, incomplete, or impractical. We are not moving forward as a society if we foolishly interpret tolerance as embracing and following all ideas, regardless of moral, ethical, practical, and spiritual worth.
To make matters worse, we surely cannot proclaim tolerance while rejecting and censoring any opposing viewpoints.
Jesus tolerated and respected the views of the crowd, even as He refused to agree with their absurdity and lack of compassion. At the same time, He did place a line in the sand, asking the sinner to avoid future sin.
To a society steeped in its own hypocrisy and selective morality, the story of the woman caught in adultery is a lesson which still needs to be spread and understood as the model of what God’s true tolerance is all about.