Pick a sin, any sin. How about adultery, to which this bible verse refers. How about theft, or killing. These are things we all would not do– not for any amount of money, not under ANY circumstances. Right?
Ethics and morals are situational– they are seated in context. So although I think of myself as someone who would never lie, I would in fact lie about Anne Frank in my attic were Nazis at my door. This is called responding to the appeal of higher loyalties, or deciding that my personal ethic of never lying will be overthrown for the higher loyalty to saving Anne Frank.
I am someone who would never kill, but I would if it meant saving my child’s life, or saving the life of someone else I love, including myself.
I don’t steal. But if stealing meant I could feed my hungry child, I would have zero problem hiding that loaf of bread or can of tuna in my coat.
These examples all are simplistic, the easiest way to make the point. What would you do given these circumstances? It’s obvious. But sometimes an occasion of sin is much more complex.
Would you kill, not for someone you love, but in a rage of withdrawal symptoms while trying to procure the precious drug? You can’t know that unless you’ve been possessed by the demon of addiction.
Would you steal to cover up a gambling problem? Again, unless you have a gambling problem, it’s hard to make that call.
What if your kids aren’t hungry, but are disappointed in the life you’ve been able to provide? What if you’re looking at Christmas with a negative bank balance and children at the point of tears?
I posted an answer over at Quora about Cash Assistance clients, nearly all single mothers, and their occasional dips into committing welfare fraud:
Where I sit at work I’m privy to interviews the agents from the Office of Investigator General conduct on just these cases. The OIG agent begins by showing the client this application and that form, completed without the unreported info. “Is this your signature?” “Can you tell me why, if you began work in February at XYZ, you waited until August to report that income?” And the answers are: I forgot, I thought I did, I tried to call, I meant to, I didn’t think it mattered, I didn’t think it counted. None of those answers are true. Just once, I’d like to hear someone tell the agent: “I know I should have. I was just trying to get ahead, feed my kids, save for Christmas.”
So, take a single mom. A woman. This woman can’t make enough to provide for her children. Let’s make it more complex. Let’s make her a survivor of a Fellini-esque childhood of nightmares. Let’s have her bear her first child at age fourteen. Let’s make her the victim of an abusive first husband. Let’s give her a few more attempts at trusting men enough to have children with them, too. And let’s allow those men to leave her, each time a little poorer, a little less trusting, a little more damaged by a largely misogynistic society that allows women to flounder alone, with pitiably little financial help from her children’s fathers. As if this cake of pain needs icing, let’s allow her to suffer terrible loss- say a sister murdered, or a child having committed suicide. Let’s watch her try to recover from that, with never enough money, with no one to help carry the burden of the already difficult day-to-day life.
Take this woman. Watch her commit a crime, one that temporarily eases the financial strain, relieves the pressure of providing for the children. Watch her enjoy a meal out with the kids. Watch her buy a child a new pair of fancy shoes. Watch the child smile and hug Mommy.
Can you imagine it? Ask yourself: under that much crushing disappointment in life, what would I do? Can you admit how that could be you? Or are you like the Pharisees, rushing the harlot to Jesus, “look, look Master, she was caught in the act, see how awful she is…?”
WWJD? This is what Jesus did: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Stone her, put her to death, if you will, if you must, but only if you yourself are without sin. Only if you have never stolen a bit, say, from the IRS. Only if you have never found an extra item in your bagged groceries and didn’t rush to bring it to the clerk’s attention, “hey, I didn’t pay for this.” Only if you have never been a tiny bit dishonest for profit of some kind.
A sin is a sin, a crime is a crime, and victims should have their day, their say, and their justice, as is fitting. That’s what Jesus called for: Justice– but not without mercy. For those of us not victimized, those of us who admit, “I am not without sin, I will not throw that stone,” our job is to ask for and have mercy –for that woman, and for ourselves.