When we are harmed by someone we sometimes hang on to the hurt in hopes that the offender will apologize. After all, we are the ones who were injured, we have a right to an apology. As we wait for the contrite heart of the other person, our own hearts become hardened with resentment, bitterness, even hostility. As someone once said, we become “prisoners of our own hardened hearts”.
Although we may have the right to an apology, the Gospel story about the woman caught in adultery suggests that sometimes we need to move past rights. In the story, the religious authorities were ready to act within their legal rights which said the punishment for a woman caught in adultery was to stone her (John 8:1-11). By the law, they had every “right” to smash that woman’s body with rocks and they point this out to Jesus.
In a shocking move, Jesus does not deny their legal right to stone the woman, but he suggests that they, too, might deserve to be punished because of their own sins. Not wanting to find out, they fled the scene. So there he was, with a group who were ready to kill a woman because of her sin, and they could not even stay around long enough to admit their own sins. Talk about being prisoners of hardened hearts.
Jesus did not say that the woman’s sin was alright. He stood there ready to forgive her, taking the risk that his love would help her turn to her life around. He does not ask us to ignore mistreatment or injustice. He challenges us to look at how we deal with it. Are we so perfect that we can pick up the biggest rock and throw it at those so much worse than we are who have wronged us? Jesus wants to free us from being prisoners of our own hardened hearts that are waiting for somebody else to make the first move.
The truth is, someone else has already made the first move and that is Jesus who says to us, “Go in peace, and from now on avoid this sin.” Grateful for his forgiving love, maybe it is time for our softened hearts to make the first move of letting someone who has hurt us go in peace.
Together in faith,
Very Rev. Christopher Smith, rector