One of my favorite stories from the Gospels is the story of Jesus and the woman caught in the act of adultery, found in John 8. This story gives us a beautiful glimpse of Jesus’ approach toward people, even (maybe especially) when the religious establishment has written them off.
The story centers around a nameless woman who was caught in the very act of adultery. The religious opponents of Jesus just “happened” to stumble upon her, and took the opportunity to make an example of her, and trap Jesus at the same time. Two birds, one stone. It’s interesting , isn’t it, that the guy is nowhere to be found (the more things change, the more they stay the same)?
They want to stone her, and they want Jesus to either condone this action, or condemn it. Condoning would mean that he essentially goes against everything he’s been saying about God’s love, grace, and compassion toward humanity. To condemn their action would place Jesus in violation of the commands of Torah, which call for the stoning (the old-fashioned kind, with rocks) of both parties, and thus nullify his influence as one who speaks a message from God.
If a man commits adultery with a married woman, committing adultery with a neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be executed. [Leviticus 20v10, CEB]
(Again, where’s the guy?!?)
Jesus is between the proverbial rock and hard place here. Does he affirm the dignity of human life and the grace and love of God, or does he affirm the tradition?
Notice how Jesus responds:
They continued to question him, so he stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” [John 8v7, CEB]
Jesus is brilliant. Instead of being trapped in their binary thinking, Jesus places the onus back on his questioners. He points out that they, despite their sanctimony, aren’t perfect either. They have their own baggage to sort through. So Jesus challenges them to deal with their issues, and to let this woman deal with hers.
The next sound was that of the rocks the religious bullies held falling to the ground.
This story is played out again and again in the world in which we live. Religious bullies armed to the teeth with Bible verses and judgmental attitudes acting like the spiritual bus monitors of the world. And Facebook has given us a forum to condemn others across the miles, hasn’t it? The sad reality is that it is often those of us who have been shown grace for our missteps that have so little of it to extend to others.
Why is it that we forget Jesus teaching here? Why are we so willing to receive grace, but then choose to be stingy with the people and situations in which we share that same gift?
Jesus said that only the sinless can throw rocks at other people.
If that doesn’t describe us (and it definitely doesn’t describe me), then we should drop our stones of judgment. If that doesn’t describe us, then we should seek, not to condemn, but to share the grace and acceptance that is already true for every person.
Does the way we believe leave room for grace?
Does it leave space for people to make mistakes, to learn from those mistakes, and be transformed on the other side of them?
If our way of believing is hostile and inhospitable to the basic humanness of others and ourselves, then it may be doctrinally correct, but it isn’t the way of Jesus.
Let’s drop the stones we carry and with which we attack, condemn, and wound others. Let’s share the same grace we have been given, so that others will know that God’s love and acceptance is true for them, too.
God so loved the world. That’s every person. That’s all of creation.
And if God loves the world and has grace for the world (including us!), so should we.