Dear friends on the journey,
Recently a Facebook friend posted about an “answered prayer” so I settled in to read the post, thinking it was going to be a heartwarming story. What I found was a tale of road rage in L.A. traffic in which he “prayed” that an impatient, somewhat erratic driver who passed him by would experience a flat tire. And what did he find a few miles up the road... the crazy driver in the shoulder with a flat tire! The acquaintance was quite pleased with his “prayer” and God for listening.
I was really surprised by this post, thinking he really misunderstands the concept of prayer but then today’s gospel of the woman caught in adultery reminded me how dangerous and common a self righteous attitude can be. The scribes, Pharisees and Jesus know full well that, according to Mosaic law, adultery is punishable by stoning. In their righteousness the scribes and Pharisees are hoping to punish a guilty woman and testing Jesus to see if he will follow the law. They are ready to lob stones at her. But Jesus counters and says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” What happens next is hopeful. They all leave. The woman is untouched. Jesus forgives her and tells her to sin no more.
How many times do we pass judgment on someone for something they have done wrong and hope they “get what they deserve?” How often do we hope a guilty person gets the worst possible punishment? Have we ever taken a little bit of delight in someone’s pain or punishment? This self righteous attitude is unproductive, dangerous, and sinful on our part.
How can we possibly know what someone else is going through? Why was that guy driving erratically on the freeway? Why was that woman in such a relationship? Why is that teenager acting out? Why is our neighbor always so prickly? Why is that coworker always so difficult? Why is that kid such a bully? Why is that cashier so grumpy?
If we’re really made in God’s image, then we’re inherently good. We’re all wired for good, but this life is not perfect. We make bad decisions. We choose the wrong actions and words. Sometimes we’re on the receiving end of another’s bad decisions, leaving us to perpetuate the harm and pain. God did not promise an easy life but he promises to be with us through the trials. God promises us forgiveness. When was the last time we asked for forgiveness? What did that feel like?
We have two weeks left of Lent. Perhaps we can take this remaining time before Easter to reflect on our moments of self righteousness and then put ourselves in the place of the adulterous woman. Put ourselves in the places of our own guilt and shame and remember what forgiveness feels like. Instead of delighting in another’s guilt and misfortune, let us put down our stones and delight in another’s experience of Jesus’ care and compassion and God’s mercy.
Faith Life Minister