Monday, October 20, 2014

Tolerating People vs. Tolerating Sins

In the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1–11), Jesus tells the woman, "Neither do I condemn you." People usually stop there when recounting the story, but it doesn't end there. Our Lord then tells the woman, "Go and sin no more."

Why do people stop before the last line? Because they usually tell this story as an example of what compassion and tolerance look like. They say, with Pope Francis, "Who am I to judge?" They end up mistaking compassion with blindness, and divesting mercy of truth, they end up with self-congratulation that will lead them all straight into Hell.

Christ made a judgment of this woman's behavior but not her being. Look at His words:

"Neither do I condemn you" in your very being, which is good, created in God's image, and called to a life of union with Him. No matter what you do or fail to do, I love you in your being, being a person, being a creature, called to be a daughter.

"Go and sin no more" because what you are doing and have been doing will lead you only to destruction. If you therefore value your life and what is good, you will do what is good because our actions follow our desire and our values.

Christ tells the woman to stop sinning. By implication, Christ is judging her actions and saying, "You have been sinning." We might say in protest, "Who are you to tell me what to do?" But Christ is truth, and He knows better. Christ doesn't threaten her because He doesn't need to. Why doesn't He need to? Because he made clear the distinction between who we are and what we do. Who we are is good, but what we do is not always good.

Compassion is for people, not for actions. Tolerance is for people, not for actions. Actions and beliefs are open to praise or rejection. People are more than their actions and beliefs, and their value is determined by neither.

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