At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 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 on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him 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 8/2-11)
When I was a Franciscan novice, we had two periods of silent meditation in chapel each day: one in the early morning, one in the evening before supper. For a lot of my novitiate year, I meditated on the scripture from John’s Gospel, above. Twice a day, every day, for months.
The business with Congressman Weiner and the harsh reaction of so many people – Democratic and Republican – made me think of this story often throughout the day today.
I notice that, after Jesus challenged the Pharisees, they all walked away, “the older ones first.” As I get older, I find it more and more difficult to judge anyone else’s personal behavior. So much contributes to behavior such as that to which Mr. Weiner confessed yesterday. If he is at all like I am, he probably won’t be aware of all the causes of his behavior until months and years from now.
I have lived a long time, I have failed more than I have succeeded, and I have hurt more people than I have helped. I have hurt the worst those who love me the most. I have done stupid, thoughtless things. I have been selfish and uncaring. I have been, and often still am, an asshole.
I am lucky, though. I have been forgiven. Not one of the people whom I have most hurt has failed to forgive me. The motivation for their forgiveness often eludes me, but I know their forgiveness is real, and I know I have been given the chance to “leave my life of sin.”
This business with Mr. Weiner just sucks. People all over the place are yelling for him to resign. People are judging his mental state without having ever met him. People are turning on him for many reasons, most of which I am sure are valid.
Forgiveness is a gift. The word “pardon” comes ultimately from the Latin phrase “per donam,” which means by way of a gift. Gifts are freely given. Gifts aren’t deserved. If something is given that is deserved, it isn’t a gift. The Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery shows Jesus not only pardoning the poor woman, but also showing the bystanders that they also have been guilty of bad behavior and they also have been pardoned. . . by their wives, by their society, by their god. . . pardoned. . . forgiven.
Mr. Weiner may have his character flaws. They say he has a volatile temper and has huge turnover on his staff. He may be juvenile in his sexual obsessions. By his own admission, he has been a bastard to his wife.
He also has been a great advocate for the poor, the disenfranchised, and the vulnerable in this country. He has used his great intellect to speak effectively on the issues that I and so many of my family and friends consider to be vital. He is a passionate fighter for justice and fairness. Isn’t he worthy of a second chance here? Isn’t he a right recipient of the gift of forgiveness? His life is now, and probably will be for a while, hell. He suffers and his family suffers. If Jesus came upon Mr. Weiner today, and all the modern Pharisees were circling Mr. Weiner with stones at the ready, what would Jesus do?
What would Jesus do? “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at him," Jesus would say to all of us, Mr. Weiner’s countrymen. At this, we, having heard Jesus, would go away, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with Anthony still standing there. Jesus would straighten up and ask him, "Anthony, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," Anthony would reply. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus would say. "Go now and leave your life of sin."