Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again, he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:1-11)
This passage is about a woman who was caught in a compromising situation. Hopefully, none of us would ever find ourselves in this kind of scenario. The reality, however, is all of us are guilty of behaviors that, if brought out in public like this, would create tremendous shame for us and others. So, even though this passage is about a specific woman, isn’t it also about all of us? Each of us is guilty, only some of us are caught facing the consequences. The main point of this story seems to be Jesus’ insistence that we are all on equal footing in the face of our sin.
I’m not sure we like this very much.
Most of us are experts at separating people into categories of good and bad. Worthy and unworthy. Influencers and nobodies. And after we’ve neatly categorized others we decide if they’re welcome or unwelcome in our cliques. But “Be careful you who thinks you stand lest you fall,” for “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
How does Jesus handle this situation?
Of the two obvious groups in this story, Jesus somehow manages not to take sides. He does not condemn the religious hypocrites for wanting to follow the letter of the law. Instead, he invites them to fulfill it. He tells them to cast their stone. Read it again!
Of course, He includes a gentle admonition that should they do so they would be condemning themselves too. He says, “You who is without sin cast the first stone.” The implication is clear, once the rocks start flying at the woman they should continue flying around the circle until everyone is adequately bruised…sounds like the 5 ‘o clock news, doesn’t it? Or for the younger people reading this, sounds like most Snapchat feeds. We’re good at throwing stones!
On the other hand, Jesus does not treat the woman’s sin as if it were nothing to worry about. Minimizing the painful consequences of sin is not grace. It’s awful! People’s lives are ruined by the ravages of sin, and it is not loving or grace-filled to let someone stay stuck in their sinful choices. Granted, it’s very difficult to know what to say and how to say it well. Jesus manages it brilliantly when He says to the woman in the story, “Neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin.”
This story challenges me. I cannot live up to the standard that Jesus is illustrating in this story. I go back and forth between being the one caught in sin and the one holding the stones.
But perhaps I’m not supposed to be Jesus. He is, after all, the only one in the circle who was without sin. Ironically, had he chosen to pick up rocks and start chucking them at everyone he would have been justified in doing so. Thank God the Cornerstone does not cast stones!
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus teaches us to consider the plank in our own eye before dealing with the speck in our brother’s. The Christian path to relationships with others and their crazy differences of opinions on important life issues must therefore be humility! If I approach my brother to help him with the spec in his eye, I should keep in mind he sees my plank clearly even while half-blinded. The kind of people who can tell us hard truths while communicating how much they are committed to our progress are rare and invaluable!
At the end of the sermon on the mount where Jesus gives us the profound truth about planks He says, “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.”
There is a standard! Loving people means helping them when they crash against that standard to ‘get up and leave their life of sin.’ But we need to do this humbly, recognizing, with gratitude, that despite our guilt our God does not condemn us either!
Casting stones always leaves us bruised and banged up. Accepting our blindness and brokenness allows us to see others with grace and compassion. I think this makes us stronger.