Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62
Today’s gospel is about a woman caught in adultery. The people that gathered around her were all set to stone her to death. They asked Jesus, "What do you have to say about this?" And with profound wisdom Jesus challenges them, "Let the one among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her." They all walk away.
"He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must cross."
— George Herbert
Forgiveness begins with self-knowledge. We look down at our feet of clay and remember the times when we were sinful, and we stood in need of forgiveness. Realizing that we are less than perfect prompts us to realize that others are less than perfect too. In fact, imperfect people are all we have here on earth. How do imperfect people live together in peace? By the constant use of those two sentences, "I’m sorry," and "I forgive." With these two sentences weaving in and out of our relationships, we end up with a beautiful and durable fabric of family and community.
"Could we read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each one’s life, suffering and sorrow enough to disarm all hostility."
— William Longfellow
Secondly, forgiveness builds on knowledge of the other. If we knew the troubles and difficulties of other’s lives, e.g. their abusive upbringing, their physical and emotional problems, their temptations, their addictions, their humiliations, their ignorance, or their broken dreams, we would find much cause to be patient and understanding. Like an umpire, we can call another’s action wrong, but we cannot judge the human heart. Only God knows what goes on inside the human conscience and how free is another’s choice.
So Jesus said to the woman, "Nor do I condemn you. You may go. But from now on, avoid this sin." The gospel doesn’t tell us her reaction, but I suspect she thanked Jesus, hugged him, and skipped off with an indelible joy that only the gift of forgiveness can bring.
Fr. Alan Phillip, C.P. is a member of the Passionist Community at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.