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Why We Are So Quick to Condemn

In the United Kingdom, we are acutely conscious of the rising cost of electricity, and electric providers are replacing banks as “Public Enemy Number One.” Two thoughts occur to me as I reflect on this media-led vilification.
First, a sizeable proportion of our electricity consumption is for gadgets and appliances on standby.

If we all switched everything off completely when we weren’t using it and allowed ourselves a bit more time for it to warm up or boot up when we wanted it, we could save ourselves a lot of money.

Part of the problem is that we like our “instant on” lifestyle but we don’t want to pay for it.

So, instead, we complain about how much our electricity bill is and blame the profiteering by the faceless companies, conveniently excusing ourselves from culpability.

This is not meant to be a defense of price increases if they result in increased profit that enables companies to pay greater dividends to shareholders when the poorest in our country have to choose between heating and eating.

But let’s be savvier about how we respond to what we are fed as news consumers.

Second, I wonder how I would feel if I was working for one of these institutions when the media spotlight shone so brightly upon them.

The media would have us respond to such institutions as we would a pantomime villain and boo them every time they appear. But they are not just institutions. People work hard and even give their lives for them.

Electricity repair workers have one of the highest work-based fatality rates of all occupations in the U.K., but do we give them a thought (or a prayer) when we complain about prices or about power lines being down after a storm?

Isn’t it interesting that when the media wants us to feel sympathy they interview a pensioner who is experiencing fuel poverty but not an electricity company employee who is scared to tell people where they work for fear of the reaction?

We would be wise in resisting the temptation to focus on faceless institutions and remember that people whom God loves are affected on all sides of a story, which is the point of one of the most compelling events recorded about Jesus.

A woman was dragged in front of Jesus, having been caught in the act of adultery, during the Feast of Tabernacles (see John 8:1-11).

During this feast, people slept in tents to remind themselves of the journey through the wilderness as the Hebrews escaped from Egypt.

Because they were in makeshift shelters, it was presumably not very difficult to recognize that something illicit was happening inside.

Jesus was confronted by a crowd that was ready to carry out a summary execution by stoning, which was actually prohibited by the Roman occupying forces, and the conundrum of what to do.

If he sanctioned the stoning to back up the Old Testament law, he was in breach of Roman law and also lacked his famous compassion.

If he stopped it, he was showing disregard for “God’s law” and thus could be discredited as a rabbi. That was the trap laid for him.

So he stooped to the ground and started writing with his finger in the dirt. What did he write or draw? We don’t know.

When they insisted that he give his verdict, he told them that the one who was without sin should throw the first stone. And he carried on doodling in the dirt.

One by one, and I suspect rather shamefacedly, the crowd dropped their stones and melted away quietly. When Jesus had finished drawing, he looked up and asked the woman where her accusers had gone.

I suspect her tear-stained face showed the first glimmer of hope as she said that there was no one left. Jesus told her to change her life and make a fresh start, refusing to condemn her or condone what she had done.

Aside from wanting to ask why only the woman was dragged in front of Jesus and not the man, I wonder why Jesus didn’t tell the crowd to look at the woman and feel compassion for her rather than to look at their own lives.

I think it might be because the crowd had objectified the woman so that she represented all that was wrong in the world that they could legitimately hate. She was not a person.

The crowd would not have been diffused by asking people to look her in the eyes because they would not have seen a person.

They would have only seen sin, adultery, unfaithfulness and evil. And those things needed to be eradicated. They were wrong and could easily be condemned.

In our context, perhaps they would have seen (and denounced) a faceless corporation while overlooking the people they employed.

Nick Lear is one of the pastors of Colchester Baptist Church in Essex in the United Kingdom. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, Nukelear Fishing, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @NickLear.