by Sister Dorene King, OSB
To stone or not to stone. That is the challenge offered by Jesus. “The one who has no sin, let that one cast the first stone.” Before we pick up the stones of criticism and judgmentalism and hurl them at each other, we need to reflect upon what compels us to such hurtful behavior.
Probably no nun has gone through life without small irritations activating control impulses and thereby escalating into a stone throwing frenzy. Even a small stone trapped inside one’s shoe can cause discomfort. Before you know it, that stone with its irritable presence causes us to react with annoyance and then with exasperated outrage we unload on anyone – even someone just a stone’s throw away.
“The one who has no sin, let that one cast the first stone.” These stones emerging from the baskets at the front of our chapel and in our gathering space are good reminders of the choice to stone or not to stone. When we focus on correcting the behaviors and speech of others, we ignore not only Jesus’ challenge to the rigid rigorous moralists of his day, but also his many other pleas to discern how hurtful the unexamined motive can be: “Why do you see the speck in your sister’s eye and not the log in your own?” “Stop judging and you will not be judged.”
It is too easy to conclude that MY sin comes nowhere near her sin. If I elevate myself to thinking that I am a person of superior character to my sister, I thereby dethrone God and justify the stoning of anyone I label as needful of my intervention.
Yes, not anything or everything should be tolerated. We do have rules of conduct and repercussions for those crossing the bounds of societal norms. If we don’t follow through on those consequences, it will send the message that we condone or at least look upon those behaviors as not destructive to human relationships.
However, sometimes we forget that mercy needs to outweigh the narrowness of what we think is appropriate or that needs correction. Love the person and do not condone behavior that destroys life. Be careful that we do not create bruised reeds among us by casting upon them critical stones. We need to examine our short comings before casting any critical stones. Be purveyors of grace and mercy. Let go of those hurtful stones of judgment.
God is eager to perform heart transplants. Our hearts need to be transformed from stony, hardened hearts to compassionate/caring hearts. In Ezekiel 36:26 God desires to give us a new heart and a new spirit. In the transplant process, God will remove the heart of stone from our flesh and give us a heart of flesh.
Let us embrace the heart of flesh which God places in us and join the song: “Come on, people now, smile on your sister, everybody get together try to love one another right now.”
Forgiven, set free, no one was left to condemn the woman. Her past would not define her. Just as in our first reading, Isaiah declares: “Remember not the events of the past . . . see I am doing something new.”
We are called to confront our control impulses which fling piercing stones at those around us. “The one who has no sin, let that one cast the first stone.” Remember these words from our Ash Wednesday evening prayer: “For love of others, she blessed rather than criticized.”
May we be purveyors of blessing and let go of those critical stones.