Many have hailed Karl Marx as a genius for identifying alienation in the human condition. His philosophical and political treatises engage the topic of alienation as he looks at the worker’s life in unchecked capitalism. But Marx saw nothing new. Two millennia prior, Jesus had already identified alienation, and more accurately. His solution involved not governments, but personal relations. His interactions with Peter bear this out.
Rather than focus on alienation based on social class, Jesus took a different tack. He sought to resolve alienation between two humans, between man and himself, between man and neighbor, and between man and God.
Each of these relationships intimately ties into others. For our purposes, we’ll take them one at a time. And because we think about ourselves most often, we’ll deal with the first level of alienation immediately.
In John 8:1-11, Israel’s morality police (teachers of the law and Pharisees) bring to Jesus a woman. They want to hold trial, for she’s been caught having sex with a man not her husband. They don’t bring her partner.
The only instance of Jesus writing occurs in this scene. We don’t know for certain what he writes in the sand, perhaps he scratches the ten laws God gave Moses. This law stares at all parties nakedly and equally.
“He who is perfect can judge her.”
One by one, the stones fall to the ground. Each man gradually walks away, “one by one, the older ones first.”
Jesus remains. He looks at the woman. “No has condemned you? I don’t either.”
Jesus was the only man who hadn’t broken the law. The only wrong the Jews found with him was his claim to be God’s son. He could condemn. He didn’t.
He did release her to live anew. “Go. Don’t do this anymore. Begin again.”
When we realize that the one who can condemn us forgives us, we can begin to accept and forgive ourselves. Certainly it was so with this woman. (“The Passion”, interestingly enough, portrays Mary Magdalene as the woman brought to Jesus in this scene.)
The act of forgiving ourselves doesn’t begin in isolation. We need an outside voice to speak the words to us, to tell us we’re forgiven, not cut off, not beyond redemption. And we need someone we can believe, someone perfect, not just a fellow inmate in our personal prisons declaring, “You, me, we’re all innocent!”
Jesus teaches us to reconcile with ourselves by showing us we’re forgiven. He shows us God’s love. He shows us we’re loved. And if we’ll follow, he’ll lead us to loving the most unlovable, even ourselves.
What do you dislike about yourself or not forgive yourself for?
How would Jesus speak to you?
Can you hear those words and believe them?
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