Condemnation Causes Isolation

John 8:1-11

One of the keys to making our faith life changing is to find ourselves in the Gospel, to see ourselves in every person in the Gospel stories we read. When we immerse ourselves in our reading in this way, we realize that we’re not just reading a book that reflects upon history.  The Gospels are living. They’re breathing. They’re here with us now.  

 

They’re like a letter from a father, teaching his son or daughter how to live a great life, an inspirational life, a life that others would want to replicate. In the Gospel scene today, we benefit, not by considering ourselves as one who is in the outer reaches of the crowd, but as one who is making direct eye contact with Jesus himself.

 

We need to put ourselves into the sandals of each of the people in the story and say, “How am I like that person (or these people)?  What can I learn from the people who were actually in this scene with Jesus?  I may have heard this story 100 times before, but what are the words or actions coming from these people saying to me at this time in my life?”

 

And in these ways, the Gospels are always new, always fresh, always alive, and they always bring us lessons of spiritual transformation.

 

If we were in this Gospel scene today, within arms-reach of Jesus and this adulterous woman, how would we react?  Would we speak up? Would we follow the crowd who disappeared when Jesus had his head down?

 

In the here and now, we are confronted with sin and sinners every day.  There are two traps that we can easily fall into.  First is to ignore the reality of sin.  The second is to condemn the sinner.  Jesus avoids both, showing us precisely the right approach. 

 

In the story that we just heard, in fact, Christ clearly condemns the sin.  He tells the adulterous woman: "Go, and from now on do not sin anymore."  He didn't ignore the sin. But he shows us that is also wrong to condemn the sinner along with the sin. 

 

When a person commits evil, that person is not rejected by God. God still loves that person and wants that person to repent and be saved. As God's children, we are called to have the same attitude.  We know Christ actually gave his life for people who were sinners.  He is the good shepherd who goes out to search for the lost sheep.  He is the doctor of souls who comes to heal the spiritually sick.

 

Why is condemnation a bad thing?  Because only God can see that other person's heart.  Only God knows how responsible that person is for their apparent sinful actions.  Only God knows that person's whole history.  When we condemn, either in action or inaction, we isolate the sinner.

 

We each have to ask ourselves: are we capable of condemning the sin without condemning the sinner? In today’s culture, the two become conflated. If we’re not able to separate the sin from sinner, it may be a sign we’re not seeing people for who they are- God's beloved children. Instead we value them for what they can do for us, for their utility.

 

Christianity is just so counter-cultural, isn’t it? One of the foundational constructs of our faith is this: Each person contributes to the community not by doing, but by being.  As Christians we are called to value people simply because they are created in God's image and have been redeemed by Christ.  Living this out brightens the whole world.

 

People do what they do out a belief that there is some good behind it. When we accuse others or dismiss them, we deepen their wounds and make them feel invalidated. We isolate them from ourselves and others. While Christ-like actions brighten the world, isolation darkens it.

 

In our study of faith, we often look at the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, anger, laziness, greed, gluttony and lust). When we analyze them, we typically look at them from an introspective vantage point – How am I falling short of the mark in these areas? 

 

How about if we looked at them from an extrospective vantage point, as one seeing the sin in others, as is the case with this judgmental crowd in the Gospel?  As we go through the seven deadly sins, we can see how our judgmental, accusatory nature conflates (mushes together) the sin and sinner, and in doing so, isolates the sinner (or perceived sinner) just as the adulterous woman was isolated.  

 

1 – Pride: Are there people in your workplace that are just so full of themselves?  You wouldn’t dare ask them on Monday how their weekend went.  What would follow, would be 20 minutes or more of conversation about… themselves.  And you say to yourself, “that’s 20 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.”  So what do we end up doing? We avoid them. As painful as it might be, they might really have lifted up (validated) by our interest in their weekend.  Instead, we’ve isolated them.

 

 

 

2 – Envy: There’s some people who we encounter who are competitive with you to the point that, that they seem to feel like your gains are their loses.  So instead of encouraging them, we end up playing the envy game with them in return, or avoid them all together.  In either case, we’ve isolated them. Better to live by the motto of a flower as given by GK Chesterton. He says, “A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.”

 

3 – Anger: None of us likes confrontation.  There are people who we know that have a short fuse. They wish that they could even out their temperament, but as is the case with most all sin, it’s not easy to do. It’s been said that where there is anger, there is likely pain underneath. Do we seek to somehow heal the pain by our loving actions or do we combat anger with anger, or avoidance – both create isolation.

 

4 – Laziness: Do we sometimes judge outward demeanor?  Do we call people lazy who maybe have physical or emotional challenge that prevents them from doing certain things?  Are there people in this category that we can encourage to become the best versions of themselves or do we simply write them off because of their lack of utility, isolating them from us?

                                                                                                          

5 – Greed: Does a person who achieves monetary success in their vocation deserve to be assigned the moniker of greedy?  Maybe some of our own envy colors our view. We likely don’t have the full picture – how hard they’ve worked, how many people they’ve hired who would otherwise be unemployed or how charitable they are?  Money or the pursuit of it, can’t buy happiness, but it can cause isolation.

 

6 – Gluttony (excess in eating and drinking): Are there people who are within our circle of influence, that because of their lifestyle, we disengage from because they don’t share our aspirations as Catholics to deny ourselves? Rather than being a disciple and influencing good behavior, we leave it to someone else. But what if there is no one else who can deliver the kind of message they need?  They’re left in… isolation.

 

7 – Lust: There are people who conflate agape love (love of neighbor) with the eros kind of love (sexual).  Maybe because of their background, they’ve never been given a chance to see real love, Christ’s love, in action. We don’t exactly know what the deal is with the adulterous woman based on the limited information we have, but we see how Christ rescues her from her isolation.

 

If the faith that we profess is as relational as Jesus tells us it is, we can see how our accusatory nature or simply our indifference can cause isolation and darken the world around us.  

 

Of course, none of us is perfect.  We all need to grow in our ability to love others as Christ does, to separate the sin from the sinner, to treat others with the dignity they deserve even though sometimes it’s tough. And as with every virtue, growing in mercy takes practice.

 

As I mentioned before, we may have heard this story of the adulterous woman 100 times before, but each time we hear it our circumstances are different. New people have come into our lives, life’s challenges may have become a little more acute for us, and our relationship with God is always changing.  It’s up to us, to use this love letter from our Father to help us bridge the gap between the Christian we are and the Christian we hope to be, and the Christian God calls us to be.

 

Catholic writer, Matthew Kelly, said in one of his Lenten reflections:  “There’s this exercise I do in church every Sunday. After the priest or the deacon reads the Gospel, I ask myself, if I just lived this Gospel reading 100%, how much would my life change? He says, “I get the same answer every week”, he says, “My life would change radically.” Not all the Gospels, not the whole bible, not the whole catechism – just this Gospel – in this case, John chapter 8, the first 11 verses.

 

I don’t know about you, but there’s a gap between my life and the Gospel, and it’s a pretty big gap.  The first thing I need to realize (we need to realize) is, there is a gap in our lives, and we need to get with God to close the gap. We read the scriptures to work on the gap. We pray to work on the gap. We make that next right decision as we relate to others to work on the gap.

 

When we measure our lives against the Gospel, we discover that gap.

The problem sometimes is we choose to instead measure ourselves against other people. One of the great dangers we face is that we can fall into that trap that says, “You know, I’m a pretty good Christian”. I’m better than that blowhard in my office who I dare not ask how his weekend went. I’m better than that angry person who flies off the handle. I’m better than that lazy person, the greedy one or the glutton. 

 

This is the game that we play sometimes with ourselves, isn’t it?  It’s only through reconciling ourselves to God’s word that we change.

 

So, we pray today for a radical change in our lives. We pray for a greater awareness of those who we have, in the past condemned, and that we can do our part to eradicate isolationism and begin to bridge the gap between the Christian that we are, and the Christian we hope to be, and the Christian God calls us to be.

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