was Jesus different from the other religious leaders of his time?
I think it was because of his capacity to be compassionately present
to all sorts of people and to all kinds of situations. Nowhere is
this better illustrated than in the story that we have today about
the woman taken in adultery.
Jesus is preaching there is a commotion on the periphery. A woman
has been caught in the very act of adultery and she is brought to
Jesus by the scribes and pharisees. They tell him, "We have a
law and according to that law she should be stoned to death. What
do you say?" (Some interesting questions that arise. Does it
not take two to tango? Where was the man? and how did they know what
was going on unless they were Peeping Toms?)
Scribes tell Jesus that there is a law and according to this law she
is to be stoned to death. Jesus does not accept their legalistic solution.
Rather, he thinks, "How does this woman feel?" Terrible,
no doubt, with everyone pointing fingers of condemnation at her. "What
does she need?" To feel better. Perhaps her low self image was
the very reason why she had entered into the disreputable relationship.
Jesus knew the simple psychological law that we cannot be better unless
we feel better. (Sadly this is something often missed in daily life.
A child feels bad enough when he or she presents a poor report card.
If castigated, all the child's energies will go into self defense,
and growth will become impossible.) So how does Jesus make the woman
feel better? After writing on the ground he says "Whichever one
of you has no sin throw the first stone." We can imagine the
woman bracing herself to bear the pain of the stones. Instead she
hears the plop as the stones the by-standers were holding were dropped
to the ground and, beginning with the eldest, they walk away. She
looks up and finds herself alone with Jesus but not alone in the classification
of sinner. In their walking away, ironically, each of the men joined
her. They all admitted that they were just as bad as she was. She
feels better. And it is only when she feels better that Jesus asks
her to be better.
of us have been taught from childhood to feel bad about ourselves.
We have been shamed into conformity and taught that we were bad if
we did not perform as others expected us to. On the other hand Jesus
loved all, irrespective of their behavior. He saw each person as good
even if their behavior often left much to be desired. He was compassionately
present to all.
meditation we are compassionately present to ourselves. We are not
talking to ourselves or about ourselves. We are not depreciating ourselves
or blowing our own horns. We are just being with ourselves, being
at our centers where the compassionate God resides. We are learning
to be compassionately present to ourselves imperfect though we are.
When we can be compassionately present to our sinful selves we can
also be compassionately present to the sinful others. And this is
what love is all about.