Sin is one of the most misunderstood concepts we have today. Sin is not about adhering to what other people tell us is right or wrong. The Greek word sin, hamartia, literally means ‘to miss the mark’. So we need to work out what the mark is. What is the target that all human beings are aiming for? Take the story of the woman who committed adultery and was brought to Jesus by the religious leaders of the time.
Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jn 8:2-7 RSV
This bible passage is deeply mysterious and would take hours to interpret fully. However, it is a very good example of the nature of sin. It shows how spectacularly unsuccessful the law of Moses is, which is still used today by so many religious leaders, for adultery is committed everywhere, golfer Tiger Woods being this week’s most prominent example. Is Tiger Woods an adulterer or was it about breaking the agreement he had with his wife? Some married couples allow each other to have relationships outside the marriage.
So why did Jesus intervene in the woman’s punishment? We could say that she was just spreading a little love here and there and love is the new commandment. We could also say that Jesus could have been using the scribes and Pharisees as an example for his teaching and that they were big enough to take it.
All this aside, it is clear in the above passage that the woman wasn’t missing the mark and that the religious leaders were. One way of looking at it would be that we no longer need religious leaders to tell us how to behave; each of us must take on this responsibility for ourselves.
This, in fact, is THE target for all human beings. It is up to us now to know what is right and what is wrong. Not by any law of government or religion, but by our own understanding of who we are as human beings and where we stand in the universe. There is an ancient saying, “Man, know yourself!” and as we work towards knowing ourselves we become much more aware of how we think, feel and act. Then we are able to place ourselves in the other person’s shoes and share their experience as if we were them. Perhaps this was the sin of the scribes and the Pharisees and Jesus was showing that he was able to deeply know the woman’s experience when they were not.