Hardly a day goes by when we don’t see headlines about another public figure’s fall from grace. So many, it appears, are prone to the moral and ethical lapses underlying everything from political corruption to extramarital affairs to just plain lying to protect one’s reputation.
Most of the time such failings are dismissed as little more than background noise on an otherwise crowded news feed. But when it comes to something as reprehensible as sexual deviance, the public discourse tends to escalate and intensify, as witnessed by the continued chatter on social media regarding Subway restaurant’s former spokesman:
@YOUniversa1So1e: Usually when something/someone seems too good to be true they usually are….
@ChadLowe: There should be no plea deals… Lock him up, throw away the key.
As justified as these outbursts may seem, the hope is that somewhere beyond such ultimately unhelpful reactions there lies a purer, more enlightened desire in us to actually do something about this sort of behavior. Assuming this is the case, there’s no better time than the present to shift the focus of the conversation from retribution to reformation, even to a deeper consideration of what role we all have to play in achieving real and lasting change.
For starters, we might consider the model provided by Jesus, a man well-known, not only for his immense compassion, but for the remarkable impact this compassion had on nearly everyone he met.
Early one morning a group of religious leaders confronted Jesus with a woman “taken adultery” to see what he might recommend in terms of punishment, suggesting that perhaps the best solution would be stoning. After a lengthy pause he said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
Was his intent to expose the sinfulness of an obviously smug group of individuals? Or might this have been Jesus’ way of stimulating that innate if latent sense of compassion we all possess that, more than anything else, serves to support another’s efforts to reform?
In the end, everyone except Jesus and the woman leaves the scene.
“Where are those thine accusers?” asked Jesus, “hath no man condemned thee?”
“No man, Lord,” she said, to which Jesus replied, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
Although it might have been easier for Jesus to simply go with the flow and let this woman be stoned, he chose instead to help not just this woman but her accusers as well to see that she wasn’t hopelessly, helplessly, bound to a pattern of behavior that inevitably causes suffering. “Jesus’ prayer, ‘Forgive us our debts,’ specified also the terms of forgiveness,” writes theologian Mary Baker Eddy. “When forgiving the adulterous woman he said, ‘Go, and sin no more.’”
The question is, how willing might we be to make this same choice, to go against the grain of popular opinion and do what we can to help rather than to hinder another’s progress? And even if we did, what difference would it make?
Of course, few of us may ever be in a position to help spare someone a slow and painful death. Even so, the conscious effort to see others as worthy of forgiveness not only supports and protects them, it also helps to alert and protect us from a sense of vulnerability to these same temptations – temptations that, even if not acted on, have a tendency to chip away at our mental and physical well-being.
Ridding the world of all things base and undesirable is more than a goal; it’s an obligation shared by one and all. The good news is that we’ve all been given the patience, persistence and, most of all, the compassion needed to succeed.