“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” . . . But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. John 8:7, 9 ESV
The modern idiom for this famous story of Jesus’ is “people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” In other words a person should not criticize other people for faults they in turn may eventually be criticized for themselves. In this telling passage about a woman caught in the act of adultery, her accusers who drag her before Jesus are in the end faced with having to acknowledge their own sin and shortcomings. The Apostle Paul could not have summed it up more succinctly. “There is none righteous, no not one. . . For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10, 23) That, my friend, is the common ground upon which we all stand.
Our sinful nature has a way of leveling the playing field when it comes to the whole issue of making judgments about intolerant behavior. In the story above, the woman’s accusers were intolerant of her sin while being unwittingly tolerant of their own. That is a common tendency in all of us, and not just the proprietary pitfall of the Pharisees.
There is always a danger in rendering judgments of others for things which we ourselves may be likewise guilty. As the old adage goes, whenever we are pointing the finger of accusation at someone there are at the same time three fingers pointing back at us. Jesus underscored this when He said that we must therefore first take the plank out of our eye before we can see clearly enough to take the speck out of our brother’s eye. (Luke 6:42-43)
We live in the day and age when our heightened sense of political correctness has made intolerance the unforgiveable sin. It is a label that is lobbed back and forth like a grenade, by parties on opposite ends of the religious, cultural and political spectrum. We justify our judgments of intolerance because if there is one thing we refuse to tolerate, it is intolerance itself. Simply put, we feel justified in being intolerant of intolerance! Intolerance at its worst is prejudicial. And invariably intolerance leads to demonizing the opponent and object of its judgment. The fallout from intolerance is a polarization of opposing parties that complicates any attempts at reconciliation.
This proclivity toward intolerance is conditioned by a person’s or party’s inability to identify with an opponent’s differences, faults and/or shortcomings. We are most likely to be intolerant of differences we don’t understand or have not experienced first-hand. That is why it is of such critical importance to walk a mile in our opponent’s shoes. The conceit and deceit of intolerance is exposed when the accusers feel the weight of their own judgments upon themselves.
Jesus knew this and as He was stooped over to write on the ground He was surreptitiously slipping the poor woman’s shoes on to the feet of the Pharisees. (John 8:8) From the oldest to the youngest, each had to acknowledge that the shoes fit and one-by-one they walked away in those shoes. As an aside, it confirms that at least one upside to gray hair is a greater awareness and sensitivity to one’s own shortcomings and willingness to acknowledge it.
This intolerance of intolerance and demonization of our opponents is at the root of the present breakdown of both religious and political civil discourse in our society. From a New Testament perspective, particularly as revealed in the gospels this ought not to be so. It is instructive that even with the Pharisees, Jesus continued steadfast in dialogue with them, ate in their homes and met secretly with them when necessary in hopes of persuading them to change. (e.g. Nicodemus – John 3)
Whenever we are tempted to throw stones it is a tip off we are venturing out onto the thin ice of intolerance. It is a dangerous proposition because the judgments we carry to bring down another could be the very things that cause the ground of support upon which we think we stand to give way and sink us instead.
I would be interested in your thoughts about this important topic.
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