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When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” ~ John 8:7

This past September, I visited Rome and spent several days walking through the streets of this living, outdoor museum. The experience reminded me that being a Christian requires wrestling with 2,000 years of history, one with chapters both inspiring and grotesque.

One evening, my spouse and I visited Castel Sant’Angelo, a massive Roman tomb that was later converted into a prison for those condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. We attended an exhibit that told the stories of the heretics, scientists and women who were imprisoned there and later publicly executed in a nearby piazza. I saw the bright red robe and sword of the papal executioner encased in glass.

Against this searing memory, today’s passage comes as a cooling salve. In John 8:1–11, religious leaders and an angry mob are preparing to condemn and execute a woman caught in an act of adultery. Jesus’ response is remarkable. He absolutely refuses to condemn the woman and saves her life by doing so. Further, he calls all who have gathered there to self-reflection about their own sinfulness, at which point the angry mob slowly turns away.

In light of Christianity’s long history of condemnation and judgment, this passage is an incredible gift. May the example of Jesus be our guide as Christians move from condemnation to compassion, and from judgment toward self-reflection.

Today’s readings

What is the role of compassion and self-reflection in your own Christian journey, particularly in the face of a history marked by condemnation and judgment?

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