The Letter of the Law
I have been thinking of sin a great deal in the past few months. Pandemics, it seems, are great times to do some looking inwards and taking stock. The free time given in a lockdown or quarantine lend themselves to self-examination, at least for me. Needless to say, I have often found myself restless, anxious, and unhappy about what I have seen. This has not been an easy time. However, it has been a time of growth.
So, it was with a grateful heart that I stumbled upon several reflections on God’s Mercy and the parables of Jesus. What I found in these reflections was hope for the sinner and a warning against self-righteousness and self deception.
I was reminded that Jesus refused to be overwhelmed by the sin of others and managed, not only to love the sinners, but to eat, drink and stay with them. Furthermore, he refused to condemn them, even a woman caught in adultery. He knew that sinners are most punished by the sin itself. The law was clear in the woman’s case: she was to be condemned to death. However, knowing that sin is something all humans deal with their entire lives (except himself, of course), Jesus called the people gathered to reflect upon their own sinfulness as a way of invoking the universal family relatedness of humanity. We humans come from the earth (root word – humus, dark material in soil caused by the decomposition of plants and animals); we are all alike, in that respect. Recognition of our essential humanness is the beginning of mercy and compassion. The law demanded sacrifice, but Jesus several times says to those demanding the law be followed, ”go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”(Matt. 12:13).
If we sin, then we can not condemn others when they sin. In fact, we ought to sit in solidarity with them and condole with them. We know the effect of sin on our lives and in the lives of those we know and love. We know the darkness that hovers near when we fall, and the spiritual desolation that happens when “decent people find themselves in indecent situations”, as Sr. Joan Chittister puts it. Should we not feel compassion for those who sin, at those moments, both for them and for ourselves. It does no good to think poorly of sinners, or to condemn them. The only thing that heals both ourselves and others is the love and tender mercy of God. Mercy and compassion are the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that ought to be how we live. If we truly love God and neighbour that is how we will live.