In the Gospel of John, one episode tends to stand out as an example of the charity of Jesus Christ and his love for other human beings. After performing miracles and preaching in Jerusalem and surrounding districts for some time, Jesus has earned the ire of local leaders.

The leaders are intimidated by how many people are beginning to follow Jesus, and to the leaders’ minds, it is imperative to discredit Jesus in order to turn people away from his teachings. Undoubtedly, these local leaders have become accustomed to the lifestyle and power that they enjoy; Jesus has become a threat to their status and that lifestyle.

Accordingly, they decide to trick Jesus into saying something blasphemous. This strategy is twofold: If Jesus is perceived as a blasphemer, his followers will likely leave him and disavow his teachings; if he utters something thought to be blasphemous, local leaders will have a pretext to arrest him and thus silence him.

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These local leaders decide to bring a woman accused of adultery before Jesus. They confront him with this woman’s story: According to scripture, they intone, this woman must be punished by a stoning to the death.

Knowing that Jesus is a forgiving and gentle person, these leaders hope that Jesus will say that the woman should be set free. If Jesus does say recommend that the woman be forgiven, in other words, local leaders can accuse him of blasphemy and have him banished or even executed. Their power over the local population will be once again complete.

Of course, Jesus immediately understands that these leaders are acting in bad faith. At first, he is silent. According to John’s account, Jesus kneels and writes something in the dust.

Then he rises and says one of the most beautiful sentences that any person has ever uttered in the history of humanity: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Jesus kneels again and returns to writing with his finger in the dust. He is seemingly oblivious to the scene around him.

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The local leaders are bewildered. They are ashamed. One by one, they begin to walk away from the scene until the crowd has entirely dissipated. Jesus notices that the accused woman remains at the scene. There can be little doubt that she is in shock at how narrowly she has escaped a brutal and horrible death. Jesus asks her where her accusers have gone. “Has no man condemned thee?” he asks.

She is affirmative: No person has condemned her. Jesus replies, “Neither do I condemn thee: Go, and sin no more.”

As we struggle with our own philosophy on charity, it is important that we return to this example from Jesus’s life from time to time. In the Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that charity is the most important virtue that his followers can embody.

Jesus loved people regardless of their faults. In the face of social pressure and even the threat of death, he managed to see the good in everyone. How many of us can say that we are able to love all of humanity without qualification? None of us are as perfect as Jesus, of course, but we should strive as much as we can to follow his example.

Indeed, charity is often a confusing thing. It is not always pleasant. It can take place anywhere; helping someone in need doesn’t have to happen at a designated time or place. When we strive to be like Jesus, we may see people in need everywhere we go. Under these circumstances, even a kind word to someone who truly needs it can be an act of charity.

We should consider that Jesus constantly surrounded himself with people who had been cast out from society. These were the people he felt needed the most help and the most hope in life. He aided people with leprosy without a second thought. At the time, tax-gatherers were despised by society, but Jesus saw that they were in need of guidance and sought to help them. When questioned about his actions, Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

When we go forth to do good works in the future, we must remember that Jesus helped people in ways that may be difficult for us to fathom. His causes were not always popular. He did not take sides. He did not refuse to help people whose politics differed from his own. He likely looked beyond his own prejudices to see the common humanity in each person that he encountered.

Indeed, Jesus loved others without imposing qualifications on that love. If we can approach our own charitable work with even a fraction of this kind of fellow-feeling to other human beings, we will have learned well from Jesus. Truly, that is the kind of charity that matters.

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