Monday, March 10, 2008

Judge Not...

"Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."
(John 8:7b)

I'm sure most of us are familiar with the story from John chapter 8. The Pharisees and scribes, ever on the lookout for a way to trick Jesus, presented a woman to Him. A woman caught "in the very act" of adultery. There was no doubt that she was guilty. No question of innocence here. (Although I've always wondered why the man was not brought forward as well. The Law required both guilty parties to be punished.)

So now, what would Jesus do? Would He break the Law by saying she was simply free to go? Would He do the "righteous" thing and begin the stoning Himself? Would he question her? How would He deal with this sinner?

And what did He do? He wrote in the dirt! Some have speculated that perhaps He was writing down the sins of those gathered. Some have suggested that He may have been writing out the Ten Commandments. Others have surmised that He possibly made a list of those in the crowd who had been with her before. I really don't know what He wrote. I just know that it wasn't the reaction they expected. They wanted action! Their righteous indignation would settle for nothing less!

Ah, but Jesus saw through their false piety. He knew their hearts. And He saw a broken, repentant woman before Him.

"Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her..." Ouch. Of course, there was not a man among those in her "jury" who could lay claim to complete innocence. True enough. None of them could stand as true judge over this woman. The one person in the entire crowd who had that distinction was Jesus alone. He was the only one without sin.

As the rocks thudded to the ground, and the men slowly shuffled off in shame, the woman must have been amazed. But even more amazing were the words from this kind Stranger:

"Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

Her only words recorded in Scripture: "No one, Lord."

And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again."

This is all we know of the story. Does this woman become a disciple of Christ? Does she later join the others in mourning His death on the cross? Is she in the crowd on the day of His ascension? Does she stand among those gathered on the day of Pentecost? We don't know for sure.

What we do know is that this woman came face to face with what grace really means: unmerited favor. In herself, she had nothing. She was clearly a sinful woman. Yet Jesus gave her no words of condemnation; only words of love and grace. Forgiveness was hers for the taking.

I think I have always loved this story due to my joy at seeing the Pharisees and scribes get another of Jesus' "in your face" type lessons. But I don't think that is what we're supposed to learn from this encounter.

We could all stand in the place of that woman. We have all been caught "in the very act" of some type of sin, haven't we? Yet the only One who could condemn us chooses instead to offer us His grace and forgiveness.

What do we offer to those around us who are living lives of "the very act?" Do we offer a cold shoulder of righteous indignation and judgment? Do we patronize them and give them the privilege of our presence? Or do we truly offer them a message of Christ's love, grace, and forgiveness...the same things He has so freely given us?

Too often, I feel like the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son, complaining to my Father: "Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid (goat), that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!"

And in His great love, God responds, "[Daughter,] you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found." (Luke 15:29-32)

As a child of God, may I be as willing as my Lord to stand on the side of grace and mercy.

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