Let's re-imagine a key scene from the gospels together, shall we?
The gathered crowd shouted in a frenzy of righteous indignation. Shouts of "stone her" and "kill the b__" rose into a cacophonic haze of hatred that all centred on the one young woman, barely clothed, who trembled in terror on the rough ground at their centre.
The Teacher started making his way through the crowd, and when men and women saw the look on his face, they fell back from his path in silence, wondering what he was going to do.
The woman squinted up at him, too, wondering what new terror was upon her.
Surrounding the dishevelled-looking victim stood a circle of men in long, dark robes, expensive-looking prayer shawls, with proper curls in their hair and proper boxes on their foreheads: the Pharisees, the religious experts who took it upon themselves to interpret the holy writings. And when they spoke, others listened. They knew that the fate of this woman was in their hands, but they had a higher agenda today: rid themselves of this overly-annoying man who kept undermining their authority with his radical teachings. They exchanged smug glances, sure that their plan was fool-proof. There was no way he could get out of this one without losing face, and either way, they had him.
Jesus looked at them questioningly.
"Teacher," began Nathaniel, huffing a little from the effort of dragging their victim there, "this woman was caught in bed with a man not her husband. The Law of Moses says that we are supposed to stone women like this. What do you say?"
Jesus knew that they were trying to trap him. He knew that they were in love with the idea of "rightness" at the expense of whatever human soul stood against them. He looked at the stones in their hands. One particularly eager-looking young man hefted his a little, gauging how hard he was going to have to throw it to do any damage.
But Jesus' gaze fell on the shaking woman, her hair tumbled about shoulders that were indecently exposed, her eyes downcast--and he loved her.
He bent down and started writing a list of vices in the sand ...
Gluttony. Deceit. Gossip. Slander.
The man who had asked the question watched what the Teacher was doing with interest. He bent his rounded figure over to get a good look at the words. He read the first one and squirmed. As the list grew, he suddenly knew that he wanted to be anywhere but here. Nathaniel stood up, dropped his rock, and left, trying to avoid the eyes of his fellow Pharisees.
The other dark-robed men suddenly realized what Jesus was writing on the ground. They started casting uneasy glances at each other.
Jesus straightened for a moment and took a slow spin, looking directly into the eyes of each person assembled.
"If any of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone."
A man at the front of the crowd with scant strands of grey hair on his head, and a long, flowing silver beard, grabbed the hand of the young boy beside him. "Let's go, Simon," he said. Soon, other men and women in the crowd started to fade away.
The serious-looking men who had dragged the harlot there in the first place exchanged more glances, trying to decide what to do. Jesus stooped back to his task.
Arrogance. Pride. Unforgiveness.
The Pharisees started to back away while the Teacher's head was bowed. An expression of panic crossed the face of the youngest of them and he turned to his cowardly compatriots.
"Where are you guys going? Wait! She deserves this. Are we going to let this guy tell us what to do? Wait!!"
Old Jacob looked at him with regretful eyes and laid a hand on his shoulder, then cast his eyes towards the list in the sand. "Sorry, Matthew. Not this time." Then, instead of going back toward the temple, Jacob left the Temple Courts to go home, weeping.
Matthew looked around, wondering if the world had gone mad. How could everyone be abandoning him? What this woman did was sick and unnatural. She was obviously deluded into thinking that how she lived her life was okay, and everyone else was supposed to see how wrong she was! She trapped good men into becoming sinners, just by looking at her, with her soft, flowing hair, ruby-red lips, and heaving bosom. He watched a trace of sweat trickle down the curve of her breast and disappear behind the rough woollen blanket she was wrapped in and licked his lips.
Matthew's eyes widened. He dropped his stone and fled.
The woman watched in wonder as her accusers disappeared, until she was left alone with only the Teacher and those who had come to listen to him. He straightened and looked at her.
"Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
Unable to speak, she slowly shook her head, her eyes locked on her saviour. Had there ever been a face so kind, so compassionate? She had slept with dozens, maybe hundreds, of men (who was counting?). But she had never seen love before. She would do anything for this man.
Jesus spoke again, his voice gentle. "Neither do I condemn you. What is your name?"
"Bruce," came the husky baritone from the woman's throat. Jesus froze, and the eyes of his followers were as wide as pomegranates. The woman knew that look, and the hope that had been blossoming in her chest exploded in a thousand shards of ice. She stood up, knowing that her fate was sealed. Even the only man who had shown her love couldn't accept who she was.
"Wait, you're a dude?" exclaimed the Teacher. He scuffed the list of vices in the sand with his sandal as he bent to pick up a stone. "Grab a rock, everyone. I thought she was only an adulteress. But this despicable freak really does deserve what she's got coming to her. Have at 'er!"
Anyone who has heard the story of how Jesus rescued Mary Magdalene from her accusers knows that Jesus did something very radical that day--he extended mercy rather than justice. He gave love instead of judgment. And at the same time, he made the watching crowd realize that they could easily be standing in Mary's place. Their own behaviours and "sins" might be less obvious (at the moment), but no less abhorrent according to the law they were so deeply expounding on as they clamoured for her death.
He loved her. Radically. And she loved him back, becoming one of his most ardent followers.
If he had allowed the stoning to continue, or participated in it as the law demanded, who would have learned anything? And how could her soul have been saved?
Mr. Walsh, it was with shock, sadness, and disappointment that I read your public evisceration of Bruce Jenner and transgender people recently.
I was even more discouraged and disheartened to see the public brawl that ensued in the comments below the article.
This reaction has nothing to do with my opinion of the LGBTQ community. It has everything to do with how so-called "Christians" have put themselves on a disgusting public display of some of the most unloving behaviour I have ever seen.
We, who should have been the ones standing on Christ's side of the line in showing love. But in recent events, how this scenario went down was that the Christians were the ones holding the rocks. The ones who should have been loving like the Man who is our example were condemning and pointing fingers. Gee, I wonder why the LGBTQ community isn't flooding into our churches in droves? Could it possibly be that our accusing fingers are in the way of Jesus' open arms? The ones dripping with blood from the cross where he gave everything he had and was to be able to show them love?
There is one more lesson we can learn from the moment when Jesus met Mary. As Jesus was writing sins in the sand, each person in the crowd was personally convicted of the ones that were present in their own life. They realized that their own sins were between them and God, and I believe that many of them went away to repent.
Whether they did or not, Mary certainly repented. Her own transgressions, on display for the world to see, were also only between her and her saviour after all. The saviour who did not condemn her, but instead, loved her.
I am so tired of Christians being "out-Christianed" by non-believers. If we would do as our God commanded us, and choose to love people instead of point fingers at them, if we would let them work out their own salvation and spiritual walk instead of insisting on putting the faults and differences of others on display for the world, if we would put aside our own prejudices and bias and look at all people as someone God made unique, special, and just how he wanted them to be, maybe we would start to understand what it is like to be a Christian. And maybe then people wouldn't have a reason to so often quote Gandhi:
I choose to love. What will your choice going forward be, Mr. Walsh? I really hope to see you on this side of the line.