Condemned…condemning. I’ve been on both sides of that word and if I admit it, probably condemning much more than condemned. We might think of it as the finger pointing we did when we are younger. It was always easiest to point a finger at someone else and it seems we learn that skill pretty early in life. I was always told when I pointed my finger at one of my brothers that there were 3 fingers pointing back at me. So now I just point the whole hand. LOL
Joking aside…we live in a world where finger pointing is an Olympic event. “It’s those spend-happy Democrats. It’s those resistant Republicans. It’s the liberals. It’s the conservatives. It’s the person who doesn’t agree with me.” Today we hear a story of condemnation and how Jesus handles it. It is a story that only appears in the Gospel of John.
2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
The first image in this story is Jesus at the temple. He is teaching what sounds like a large group of people. In comes a group of scribes and Pharisees with a woman—a woman they caught in the very act. Sounds pretty well planned—Jesus at the temple, large group of people and someone caught (oh so many catch phrases would fit here) cheating—in the very act. Had they trapped this woman? Where was the man? Then we’re told it was to trap Jesus. If he had pleaded for her life he would have contradicted the law. If he went along with the mob, he would have contradicted his teaching on forgiveness.
Jesus says nothing, but stoops to write in the sand…and what he wrote remained a secret. When they continue to push him, he stands up and says the one who is without sin can throw the first stone. Imagine the hands poised ready to throw that stone. What stopped them? Was it the word or words Jesus wrote in the sand? Was it that Jesus knew them and their sins? We’ll never know that. We only know they all walked away—beginning with the eldest. That is another striking image—the eldest gets it first. What do they get? A glimpse of compassion—a person who won’t point a finger, but instead offers grace.
Is that the point of this story? Jesus is the embodiment of grace and the woman is the embodiment of sin. Those who study scripture in the context of Jesus’ time say no—that good man/bad woman image distorts the text. Jesus actually focuses not on one or the other but both. He addresses the scribes and Pharisees giving them a new way to be. He treats the woman as equal to these men and offers her a new beginning. Jesus’ capacity to be compassionately present to all sorts of people and to all kinds of situations shows how he was different from other religious leaders of his time. Jesus shows us how to be compassionately present to all sorts of people and to all kinds of situations in our time.
UCC minister, Matt Laney, writes, “It’s human nature to point fingers. It’s God’s nature to forgive and with Her fingers to make something new out of the dust and ashes of our mistakes. We don’t know what happened next to this woman, but I doubt she went home and kicked the dog, snapped at her kids, or turned down a neighbor in need.”
There is no condemnation in love. That doesn’t mean that we can act any way we want. It is not a license to behave badly and hurt people by our actions. It doesn’t mean we won’t suffer the consequences for our actions. It means love has the last word with Jesus. “Blessed are you as you tremble and wait for the first stone thrown at your sinful disgrace. Tell me your story. Show me your wounds. And I’ll show you what love sees when love looks at you.”
Jesus showed compassion to the woman, but also to the men who wanted to kill her. He gave them the opportunity to go another direction. For a moment they did. They did not continue on that path and were unable to learn from Jesus. I still believe that Jesus loved them to the end.
This week a man died who would have been unnoticed by most of the world had he not chosen to spew hatred in the name of Christ. Fred Phelps, along with his family and Westboro Baptist Church, spewed hatred against gay people, including the funeral of Matthew Shepherd. In recent years, they picketed funerals of soldiers claiming God was punishing America for its tolerance of homosexuality. While it pains me to give him any attention, I feel compelled to do so for one reason. That reason is Jesus, who said, “You who are without sin throw the stone.” It has been overwhelming to see the number of people this man condemned for being gay reach out in love. Jesus came for his story—hard to say, but it’s not mine to judge.
Please join me in prayer: Dear God, help us put down our stones and use our hands to bless and heal our broken and divided world. Amen.
The power of love is amazing, incredible, life-changing. God holds us close and lets love surround us, all of us.