Monday, April 7, 2014

You can't teach kindness with a whip

Jesus' attitude is striking: we do not hear the words of scorn; we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation. "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again." Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God's face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God's patience, the patience He has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to Him with a contrite heart. "Great is God's mercy," says the Psalm. – Pope Francis: Angelus on March 17, 2013

Gospel Text: (JN 8:1-11)
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area,
and all the people started coming to him,
and he sat down and taught them.
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.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“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 any more.”

In Victor Hugo’s classic novel Les Miserables, the main character, Jean Valjean, is imprisoned several years for stealing a loaf of bread. When he is finally released, he is so desperate for money that he steals a pair of silver candlesticks from a kindly bishop—only to be arrested again. Knowing he is guilty, Valjean fears a return to prison. But the bishop surprises him by telling the police that Valjean didn’t steal the candlesticks; the bishop had given them to him as a gift. Speechless in the face of such mercy, Valjean turns his life around completely. From that day on, he leads a life of generosity and charity, treating other people with the same compassion that he had received.

In today’s Gospel reading, we find a woman who, having been caught committing adultery, is also well aware of her sin and trembling in fear of the punishment that she surely deserved. But like Valjean, she too was stunned to find that rather than condemnation, she received mercy. Instead of being met with stones, she felt the healing touch of Jesus’ words. And her heart was so softened by them that she was prepared to respond in love when he told her, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11).

Both stories show us what conversion looks like. Someone who is headed in one direction—toward selfishness and sin—has an encounter with God’s deep love and mercy and begins to move in a completely different direction. Touched by love and moved by grace, he or she becomes a new creation.

We can’t normally know what is on a person’s heart and we certainly can’t know the mind of God, so all that is left for us to do is treat others with compassion, forgiveness, and mercy, rather than judgment and condemnation. The rest is up to God.

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