Lent V: the Adulterous Woman and the War on Drugs
This week had the story of the woman caught in adultery, who was brought to Jesus with the querry of what must be done to her. He does not take the bait and instead writes for a while in the dirt, telling them that whoever is without sin may cast the first stone. He then goes back to writing in the dirt (possibly their sins) until they all fade away. He then tells her that he does not condemn her either and that she should go and sin no more.
He clearly does not excuse her sinful behavior. He did not tell her that sleeping with a man not her husband was OK, which is an important point and is how this case differs from the recent legalization of gay marriage in DC (where society did say that gay marriage is a right and rightful thing and which will very likely spur Catholic families to have the Church follow suit in celebrating such unions). The rightness of gay marriage is not a forgiveness question, but instead a natural law question. The forgiveness question for progressives has more to do with the nature of the criminal law.
In Jesus time, the Jewish moral law was also the civil law. Indeed, in much of that region, it still is. Jesus' actions here are perhaps an indication that it should not be so, since all are sinners. The second chapter of Romans makes the same point (although in that case, homosexuality is mentioned - although only in the case of salvation and not civil law - although in that case it is after it was stated in Romans one that open homosexuality is found in non-theistic pagan societies such as Rome - which itself is an observation rather than a moral teaching).
In our time, this teaching is best applied to our drug laws and to the enforecment of crimes committed either on drugs or alcohol or to get drugs or alcohol. The reason not to abuse such things is not because they are evil, but because doing so is not healthy. We avoid addiction or look to recover from it not because addiction is evil but because it is not good for us. That harmfulness is what makes it sinful to do (rather than the other way around). Adultery is also to be avoided, not because it offends God, but because it makes life unworkable. In the United States, we mostly do not lock up adulterers (although in some places it is still considered a crime, like Virginia and in the Uniform Code of Military Justice) , however we do lock up drug addicts and people who commit crimes when drunk. Of course, we are more likely to lock up African American and Latino offenders, just like in ancient times women were more likely to be stoned for adultery than men.
The progressive lesson of this Gospel (not discounting the seasonal call to personal repentence) is the call to forgive others and in so doing to establish a different modality to deal with addiction and the crimes that result from it. Some form of mandatory treatment would be much more workable and less costly (voluntary treatment is too easy for those not in their right minds to avoid). It would also be more in keeping with the teachings of Christ and the command that we forgive others, since we are all in need of forgiveness in some way.