Friday, November 11, 2016

The universality of human failure and sin

In John’s Gospel (8: 3-11) we read a passage, whereby Jesus Christ forgives the adulteress woman. There we read:
3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught[b] in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded[c] us that such should be stoned.[d] But what do You say?”[e] 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.[f]
7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up[g] and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience,[h] went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her,[i] “Woman, where are those accusers of yours?[j] Has no one condemned you?”11 She said, “No one, Lord.”And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and[k] sin no more.”

This is a very interesting passage for many reasons. It is the only incident where we read that Christ actually wrote something. Interestingly enough no one knows what He wrote. However, the significance of this story is to be seen in the exegesis given by Church Fathers and by theologians, who understand that sin is not to be understood on an individual level, but universally. Christos Yannaras expands on this, claiming:

‘. . . In every age, the religious conscience has been unable to accept that Christ should assure this woman, who has shown Him no external sign of repentance, that He did not condemn her. He is confronted with the clear commission of a sin, among the gravest in religious and social ethics – a sin which the Law of Moses punished with death. Yet He does not pronounce an indictment, but disarms and shames those who accuse the sinful woman by reminding them of the universality of human failure and sin. Instead of using conventional standards to measure the individual’s failure and fall, He points to the need in all men to turn to the grace of God: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”’ (Yannaras, Christos, The Freedom of Morality, p. 61).

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