Saturday, April 20, 2013

Public Shaming

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again, he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," she said.

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now, and leave your life of sin."

John 8:3-11 — New International Version (NIV)
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Living on the registry is living with your greatest mistake made public and broadcast for all to see. For some, like myself, it is a public shaming that will last for the rest of our lives.

It's easy to be judgmental and critical of another, when their sins are laid bare for the world to see, while yours are locked away in a closet, hidden in the depths of your past. Your reputation is secure, when the face you present to the world is unsullied. It is the illusion of superiority, because you believe you're not like those others — people are funny like that.

During my time in prison, I attended lots of counseling, not because I was required to, but because I sought to understand why. Something happens when you spend years in therapy — you begin to understand human behavior. Another thing I did was read. A lot. I read everything I could get my hands on, and when I ran out of stuff, I read the NIV Bible, cover to cover, several times. The passage quoted above always intrigued me, because I always wondered: what was Jesus writing in the dirt? Strangely, the Bible never says, even though so much hung in the balance.

In that passage, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into committing heresy, a sin punishable by death, by getting him to denounce the Law of Moses in order to save the life of the woman. They thought they knew what Jesus would do. When the woman is brought before him, Jesus bends over and begins to write in the dirt, rather than answer the question that was put to him. Later, he returns to writing in the dirt, after making the oft-quoted statement, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

The answer to the question of what Jesus was writing in the dirt is simple, really — the first time, he bent and wrote a list of the transgressions punishable by the Law. A list of sins.

The second time, he started writing names next to those sins. The names of those in the crowd.

John records that the crowd began leaving soon after Jesus started writing a second time. It's little wonder. Harsh judgement and criticism of another under a strict and inflexible Law always melts away when one's own transgressions of that same Law are laid bare in public. Faced with evidence of their own faults and sins, the crowd suddenly realized that they were not any better than the woman they accused.

It's easy to cast stones when you feel your position is secure, when you feel superior to another. It's a far different game when the playing field is leveled. Think about this, the next time you judge that sex offender down the street. You don't know their whole story, and the truth is, they're not that much different from you.

The only difference, really, is that their sins have been made public.

For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 3:23 — New International Version (NIV)

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