Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 66: The Adulteress
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 66: The Adulteress

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

We all know the story of the adulteress who Jesus saved from stoning by challenging the enraged men, “Let him who without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) Mimetic theory offers some interesting insights into this story.

The story relates that Jesus wrote in the sand while talking to the mob. Why? Mimetic theory suggests that, if Jesus had met their gaze, the angry accusers would have seen their own hatred and violence in Jesus’ eyes and likely would have killed him as well.

Jesus understood mob violence. No one person starts it. Just as acquisitive desire is mimetic (see essays 2 & 3), the accusatory gesture is also mimetic (see part 6). The accusation against the woman would have snowballed within the mimetic crowd, going something like, “I hear she is a sinner”; “Yes, she was seen with X, even though she is married”; “I hear she hates her husband”; “I bet she has been committing adultery”; “The Scriptures say that adultery should be punished by stoning”; “Then she should be stoned”; “Yes, she must be stoned”; and the accord spreads quickly. When Jesus challenged the crowd to produce someone without sin to cast the first stone, he was demanding that someone step away from the crowd and take responsibility for the violence himself. Mimetic theory posits that people are very reluctant to take this step, and indeed nobody came forward to commence the stoning.

Jesus forgave her sin, before she asked for forgiveness or even expressed repentance or regret. Then, he told her to sin no more. If Jesus had demanded her repentance, she would likely have sought excuses for her behavior, since presumably she had once felt justified in committing adultery. When Jesus forgave her, he communicated that God loves her unconditionally, even if she had sinned. Therefore, she did not need to find excuses for her behavior, and she could then acknowledge her sinfulness.

Unconditional forgiveness is a recurrent biblical theme: “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.’” (Matt 18:22) The natural human response when our brother offends us is to condemn him, which does two things. First, it engenders hate, which results in either escalating offenses against each other, or resolution of our conflict by our blaming and then victimizing an innocent scapegoat. Second, when we judge and condemn our brother, we deflect attention from our own contribution to the conflict. While it is often hard for us to see, we are almost always partially to blame when there is conflict that offends us. The only nonviolent way to reconcile with our brother is to genuinely reflect God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. Forgiveness is more than a strategy; it is what our faith calls us to do. Just as God unconditionally forgives our own violence and destructiveness, as disciples of Christ and children of God, we are similarly called to forgive.

Next week, we will explore how forgiveness informs the concept of rebirth in Christ.

Go on to: Part 67: Forgiveness: Born Again, part 1
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