The world we live in is at times so polarized that we could be compelled to think and act in terms of “I” and “you”, “them” and “us,” instead of “we.” The very existence of the other could, at times, appear or could be projected and perceived as a threat, as someone to be suspicious of. The harmony of human existence as a community of individuals is endangered and often punctured by the commentary of animosity, division and hatred. The narrative of what divides us is pushed to the fore, pushing aside all that we share and hold in common, and that which binds us as one. That which is projected as dividing us can make life quite disruptive and unpleasant. On the contrary, a focus on what binds us could make life much more meaningful and peaceful. The Brexit process, whichever side of the debate we may be with, is fraught with such divisive discussions and rhetoric, necessitating the Chairman of the National Police Chief Council to issue a plea, to politicians and campaigners alike, not to inflame tensions. In other words, it is a plea to respect the otherness of the other in a moment of high-pitched emotions. It invites us to reflect on unity in diversity, and to remain united as one.
Keeping this in the background, I would like to reflect on the Gospel this Sunday (John 8: 1-11). Jesus, on his encounter with the woman caught in adultery questions, “Woman, where are they?” The ‘they’ had already condemned the woman and brought her to Jesus with the hope that he should or would confirm their actions. ‘They’ considered themselves to be the morally upright and the legally empowered, by the Law of Moses. ‘They’ were her adversaries, her judges and now were on the verge of being her executioners. ‘They’ had already distanced themselves from her, and presented themselves as different and distinct from her.
Jesus turns their question and their desire to act as judges on its head. If their approach was to differentiate themselves as better than the woman caught in adultery, Jesus calls them to reflect on their role as members of the same society. Jesus recognizes that division and divisiveness are not productive, and definitely not the tools to promote and foster the Kingdom of God. The second Vatican Council reminds us that, Jesus helps us to see “the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which it lives; that world which is the theatre of man’s history, and the heir of his energies, his tragedies and his triumphs; that world which the Christian sees as created and sustained by its Maker’s love, fallen indeed into the bondage of sin, yet emancipated now by Christ, who was crucified and rose again to break the strangle hold of personified evil, so that the world might be fashioned anew according to God’s design and reach its fulfillment.” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 2)
In his act of emancipation, Jesus looked up at the women and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? … Neither do I condemn you…” ‘They’ had brought her to be condemned, because having sinned she was different from them. In his offer of forgiveness, Jesus gives these same accusers a place of priority. Jesus acts on the basis of their act of non-condemnation. It is no longer about distinguishing a sinner from a non-sinner, or a grave sinner from not that grave a sinner, but simply about forgiving her. Since, they had not condemned her, neither was he condemning her. Jesus, in a way, bases his forgiveness on their act of non-condemnation. If ‘they’ had condemned her, Jesus now brings forth a collective ‘we’ to grant forgiveness to her.
So, for a Christian there is no more ‘they’ or ‘I,’ but ‘we.’ The failure of one is no occasion for the other to feel different or to feel better than him/her. Rather, it calls us to humbly acknowledge that ‘we’ have failed and faltered. Jesus uses their process of othering to transform it into a unity and into a responsibility towards the other. If they brought her to Jesus to ratify their condemnation of her, Jesus brings them together in his offer of forgiveness. In his act of forgiveness, Jesus transforms the ‘they’ into a ‘we,’ and affirms that the root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God.
It is this communion that we, as Christians, are called to seek – a communion, that dissolves all boundaries and barriers of any shape, form or colour. Jesus invites us to shed away all fears, recognising that we are all sinners standing in need of God’s grace. Our common calling as God’s children is to see goodness in the other and to offer goodness to him/her. The call to offer goodness to others is based on the acknowledgement and conviction that each of us is a recipient of God’s goodness. In God’s parlance, there is no ‘they’ but just a ‘we.’ That is the essence of a Trinitarian God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who works in tandem and in harmony.
As members of the one Body of Christ, we are called to seek and further, the ‘we’ of our parish community, by offering of our time, talents and gifts towards it growing and flourishing. In this pursuit, nothing is too little, and equally, nothing is too much. On our journey to God’s kingdom, no one is a threat, but only an asset. We are partners and comrades with Jesus and to one another. There is no longer a ‘they’ but a collective ‘we’ called to witness to Jesus and his love.