The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, sir.”
And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
Correction VS Condemnation
In the passage above, Jesus says he does not condemn the adulteress. He does, however, correct her: “Do not sin again.” The difference between this correction and the condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees is love.
When Jesus saw the woman and knew her sin, He did not condemn her. He did not even condemn those who wanted to stone her for her sin. I imagine him refusing to answer, refusing even to look at them, writing in the sand. My dramatic sense suggests He was sad.
Why was He sad? Because He saw how unhappy they were: so unhappy that they could not conceive of happiness. He wanted them to be happy. This is the core of the difference between correction and condemnation. Corrections are primarily made for the good of the one corrected.
When we condemn, on the other hand, we are not concerned with the sinner’s happiness. We are rather concerned with his rightness or wrongness, what is just and what is unjust. Is he hurting others? Is he failing in things that should be easy? Is it right according to an impersonal rule?
These questions are not wrong in themselves, but without love they are wrongly motivated. They cause anger rather than pity. It is in pity that we can imitate our Lord.
In trying to achieve Christ’s method of correction, my words sometimes come out stoically. “If people say or do things that anger me, I ignore them. Their opinions are not worth being upset about.”
In doing this I’m trying to avoid mixed motives (not bad in itself, but it is a common contributor to pride). If I let someone’s actions cause emotions other than love, I must detach myself. Before I can be an example of love, before I can practice correction, I must remove all self-interest. I must die to myself, keeping only selfless love, which is of God.
In the end, stoicism has no place. But it has its uses in the beginning.