April 5, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Wounded by sin, Jesus still offers mercy to sinners

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore” (cf. Jn 8:10-11).

The Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Jn 8:1-11) tells us everything we need to know about the Christian attitude toward sinners. First of all, it reminds us that we are all sinners. That’s why Jesus can say to the scribes and Pharisees (and all of us), “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at [the woman caught in adultery]” (Jn 8:7).

None of us can claim to be without sin, so our self-righteous attitudes are completely inappropriate. The fact that the scribes and Pharisees used the law of Moses as justification for their desire to condemn the woman is what prompts Jesus to bend down and write on the ground. What was he writing? St. John doesn’t say, but whatever it was it was enough to frighten the woman’s accusers so that one by one they all left.

Next, Jesus, who was now alone with the woman, confronted her with the merciful love of God. He does not condone her sin or seek to minimize it. He tells her quite clearly “from now on do not sin anymore ” (Jn 8:11). Sin is abhorrent to Jesus. It quite literally wounds him and, in the end, our sins are responsible for his death. But sinners are a different story.

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician,” Jesus tells us, “but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (Lk 5:31-32). We are all sinners. Therefore, we are all called to repentance by Jesus. None of us can afford to cast stones at others. Our obligation is to acknowledge and confess our sins, and then to repent and accept the mercy and healing that Jesus offers us, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation. To each of us, the Lord says, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore. ”

Of course, with all the best intentions in the world, we continue to sin—in small things if not in big ones. That’s why our repentance and conversion can never be just a one-time experience. God’s mercy is always available to us even—or especially—when we stumble and fall.

Yes, our actions have consequences, and we are required to make amends, but even after repeated failures, the Lord does not condemn us or abandon us to our sinful ways. He invites us to change our behavior and to become better than we are.

Our attitude toward sinners should be that of Jesus. We should not engage in destructive talk. (Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken out against the serious sin of gossip.) Nor should we point our fingers at others in an accusatory way or attempt to punish them for their perceived sins.

Catholic social teaching emphasizes the core belief that every human being—regardless of his or her background or circumstances—is made in the image and likeness of God and is therefore entitled to respect. No matter how grave a person’s sin may be, he or she remains a child of God possessed of great dignity. Yes, those who break human and divine laws may need to be restrained from causing further harm or be punished for their offenses. But this does not entitle us to mock them, torture them or end their lives.

That’s why we engage in prison ministry and oppose capital punishment. It’s also why we refuse to cast stones (mentally or physically) against those who have sinned. God is merciful to sinners, and we should be also.

Jesus does not condemn sinners, but he also does not condone our sinful behavior. The distinction is a critically important one for us Christians. It allows us to reject sin without rejecting ourselves and our brothers and sisters, who commit the sins that wound the Body of Christ, contributing to his passion and death on the cross.

This Lent, our Church is especially conscious of the sinful crimes committed against many of our community’s most vulnerable members. We dare not ignore, or minimize, these atrocities. And, yet we are challenged by the Gospel not to fall into the trap of hateful or judgmental attitudes or actions.

“Has no one condemned you?” Jesus asks each one of us. “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

Let’s take his words seriously. Let’s look at sinners the way Jesus does—as sisters and brothers called to repentance and God’s love and mercy. †

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