Last Friday, Brian Williams gave an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show following his suspension as the anchor of NBC Nightly News. If you don’t know the story, Brian Williams was exposed as having lied about his involvement with several news stories. If you haven’t seen the interview you can watch it here.
We watched the interview during a departmental meeting where I work. My friend Mark facilitated the discussion that followed. There were a lot of comments regarding whether or not Williams actually apologized, whether or not the nature of his actions were really as bad as they seem, and whether the resulting discipline fit the crime. As I listened to the conversation I really had only one thought. “I hope I’m never in Brian Williams’ shoes because that would really suck.”
Over the next few days as I pondered the exchange between Williams and Lauer I thought about a story from Jesus’ life when a woman was caught in adultery. Jesus had been doing some teaching when a group of religious leaders brought a woman to him. The woman had been caught committing adultery and the teachers wanted to see what Jesus said should happen to her. You see, in Jesus’ day, adultery was a capital offense, punishable by stoning.
I’ve always found it curious that they only brought the woman to Jesus. Given that adultery is usually committed by two people, where was the guy? Maybe the guy was a plant like what they do on To Catch a Predator and all along the religious teachers and Pharisees were hiding out somewhere in the bedroom.
The guys were ready to give the lady what the law said she deserved. Think about the scene for a moment. The men gathered around, stones in hand, waiting to hear what Jesus had to say about the matter. Jesus had just sat down to do some teaching, so he was probably a little frustrated to be interrupted by all of this. Then there’s the woman who was caught in the act! Given the demeanor these guys seemed to have, I’m not sure they gave her much time to get herself together. This is not a pleasant moment.
So in the middle of all of this tension, Jesus said a few simple words. Standing up, he said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he sat back down and started to draw in the dirt.
At this point, I imagine there was some wise guy in the crowd who is thinking, “Me! He’s talking about me!” and moves forward to throw the first stone just as his buddy grabs his robe to pull him back.
One by one, the men dropped their stones and walked away. After a while Jesus looks up to see everyone gone and he asks the woman where they all went and wondered if no one was left to condemn her. She said they were all gone. Then Jesus says he’s not going to condemn her either and sends her on her way after telling her to not do this again.
There are a couple of things about this that are really interesting. First, Jesus never excused what she had done. In fact, he tells her not to do it again.
Second, Jesus said that whoever was without sin to go ahead and throw the first stone. Most of us read what happened here and we see the guys walking away one by one and think, “Oh! I get it…all of us have screwed up.” That’s certainly true, but think about this. Jesus was the only there who was without sin! He had every right to throw a stone but decided to extend forgiveness.
The one guy in the crowd who could have thrown a stone never even moved to pick one up.
When I think about what Brian Williams did, I feel really let down. I like that guy. He’s funny and isn’t afraid to loosen up a bit to soften the traditional image we may have of news anchors. What he did was really, really wrong. But when I think about what he was caught doing and remember how Jesus treated a woman who was caught doing something far more tragic, all I can think of is that I need to lower my hands and walk away.
The reality is all of us are Brian Williams. The moment that any of us believes we are not is the moment we become no better than the wise guy standing in the crowd, moving forward to throw a stone and saying, “Me! He must be talking about me!”
When I think about the Brian Williams situation, I’m compelled to look in the mirror and ask myself two questions:
1) How am I like Brian Williams?
2) How can I stop being like Brian Williams?
The only one who really has anything to say about it would probably say the same thing he did to an adulterous woman and her accusers a couple of millennia ago.