Today I bring you a story of God’s true mercy. It involves not someone who was poor or sick or widowed (from what little we know), but certainly someone who was condemned and abandoned by the authorities of her community. It’s from John 8:1-11.
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area,
and all the people started coming to him,
and he sat down and taught them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery
and made her stand in the middle.
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.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
We live in a world in which authority figures and those who cleave to their every word openly condemn others. Often they choose which sins they condemn in public and which sinners get the public shaming. Notice here that the scribes and Pharisees condemned the woman but not that man, for instance. Of course, in this story from the Gospels, the scribes and Pharisees did this to test Jesus, but it was also the practice of those times to bring adulterers before the crowds for stoning. It was their law. In fact, stoning was the punishment for many infractions.
Today, we don’t stone people, fortunately, although there are those who would like to see the practice brought back. Self-righteous people who, like the scribes and Pharisees, can readily see the sins of others but who don’t admit to their own sins. But as a society and culture we have other ways of dealing with sinners and those we assume are sinners. Public shaming, for instance. Shunning. Talking about them behind their backs. Enacting legislation that punishes people whom we don’t like or for acts we don’t like, while having more tolerance for people or acts that we are less likely to condemn because of our prejudices – or perhaps because we secretly perform those acts ourselves.
The lesson for us here is that Jesus was presented with someone who supposedly was caught in an act that was against Jewish law. And when confronted with it and when expected to act on it, Jesus showed the woman the mercy and dignity others would not. He who was without sin, who could justly have condemned her under the law, refused to condemn her. Without his example, those who were sinners by their very human nature, would have stoned her.
So who are we today to not follow Jesus’ example?
Every one of us is a sinner, yet we choose to cast stones (metaphorically speaking) against others who are sinners. Sometimes those others aren’t the sinners we think they are, although by their human nature they must surely be sinners of some kind. And by Jesus’ own words and by his example, we are guided and led and commanded not only not to “stone” another person, but not to judge them.
If you say you are a Christian, if you believe you are a Christian, how can you not put down that stone? If Jesus will not condemn a sinner, how can you not do likewise?