John 8:1-11 (the message)
Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them.
The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.
Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”
“No one, Master.”
“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”
One of my flaws is the potential for a judgemental spirit or heart. I have been and can easily slide into the age-old past-time of casting stones. The truth is it can feel good to judge others…to make the call on their actions without knowing their hearts…without having walked in their shoes…without pulling back the curtain to expose my own sin.
How about you? Are you a stone-caster? Do you find it effortless and enjoyable to gasp at the choices of others? I readily admit that in some indefinable way it feels good to our flesh when we judge others. Why? Because when we are judging someone else the focus gets to be on them! Of course God knows that our struggles and the “problem areas” in our personality and character are the result of our childhoods and we are a work in progress (wink wink).
I feel like I could spend days reading the verses above. There is so much to absorb there! What stands out to me right now is the heart of the Pharisees and the heart of Jesus. Not just because Jesus wasn’t condemning her or His blatant point to the accusers that they were not perfect…here is what I see: The Pharisees and religion scholars who drug this adulteress woman in front of a crowd had not even the smallest desire to see her redeemed. They were all about making a show of her…embarrassing her…condemning her. Certainly she had broken moral law but they were slobbering all over themselves at having her punished. Even in applying consequence they could have been heart-broken, but they were not. They could have been sad for the sin and destruction that her adultery would have certainly caused, but they were not. They didn’t care why she had made such horrible choices. They didn’t care about discovering if she had a repentant heart. They didn’t care about anything other than making an example of her and highlighting their moral superiority.
But Jesus…He is so wonderful. He wasn’t about to let them manipulate the situation. He took His time. Wrote something in the dirt. And when , I believe, He had heard from His Father, Jesus responded that the sinless one among them go first and throw the stone. This is so interesting to me! Here Jesus is presented with an adulteress woman and the “religious folk” who are demanding her death and who does He address first? The religious folks! See, I think this can really interfere with our nice little stone casting mentality if we let it…I know it does mine. Honestly, it’s only been in probably the last year or so that I have had to face this bent in my own life toward judging others. But the tricky part was that I knew it was wrong so my judgement was largely held in my heart toward people. As in I did not overtly make commentary about them but I held myself in a superior light. That is not easy to write. I don’t like that about myself. There may be reasons some people are more judgemental than others…I do think that sometimes people who are so quick to judge have felt quite judged themselves. Basically, I find that most people are giving out in life what they have received which is sad and backwards. God wants us to give out what we want to receive, but how do you give what you don’t have? How do you give grace if you have never receive grace? How do you give unconditional love and forgiveness if you have never received it? How do you accept people where they are and cheer them on to greatness if no one ever did that for you? How do you let people in your life just be themselves without attempts to control and manipulate them if you have never known the freedom to be yourself? Really that probably describes most of us because no one lives in a perfect world with perfect people. Jesus is the only one who can fill us and enable us to give to others what we have never experienced as we receive it from Him.
So why was I a stone-caster? Why was I willing to judge people in my life who didn’t live and parent and worship the way I did? I mean did I really think I had arrived at perfection?! Not hardly. I doubted in my own self many of the things I judged in others and most importantly, I had a need deep inside to feel better about myself. I know…I know… a page from the old “you cut people down so you can feel taller” playbook! Still, it’s true. And what I find so interesting in the scripture above is that Jesus found it more crucial to address a judgemental heart before adultery. Why? I just think it’s because God’s compassion and grace is so far out of our realm of understanding. And the truth is some of us don’t want do understand it because we don’t want to give grace! Maybe we think we work hard to follow the rules and we earned the right to cast the stones at those that are failing miserably. Or maybe some of us are more discrete, like I was, and just want to put people in their proper box with the proper label: law-breaking adulteress, home-wrecker, deserving every pelt of every stone coming her way. Gay man dying of AIDS, his choice! Teen from the projects pregnant again, depending on welfare, hopeless! Family member who can’t stay off drugs or away from the bottle and steals and lies, write them off! College girl who aborts her baby, heartless and selfish! This may seem strong, and it feels that way to me as I write, but aren’t these very real examples just like the one in the scripture above? Lives floundering, no doubt filled with deep pain, and Jesus is taking His time with their accusers…with us. Instead of getting into agreement with our picket signs, Jesus gets into agreement with Grace and Redemption. Can you hear Him? I can…even as I write. He is asking each one of us who profess His name and yet continue to judge and accuse those that need Him most…which of you should go first? Which of you is sinless and ready to cast the first stone? See, Jesus is the only sinless one. He is the only one in the rightful position to judge us and mete out our penance…and yet in His amazing love He took on the penance Himself.
We have been forever relieved of our stone-casting duties. Jesus, the sinless one, does not stand over the most broken of us with an accusing finger…no… His fingers are writing in the dirt at the feet of the adulteress. Truthfully, I have been in His presence…broken and ashamed…hopeless and undeserving…and felt the dust stir at my own feet. Uncomfortable and afraid to open my eyes but finally seeing the beautiful words He wrote for me…grace…everlasting love…nothing separates us…fresh start…I never left you…these are the words that healed me. Do I forget them? Do I forget what it felt like to collide with mercy? Do I forget why I needed mercy?
God, forgive me for my stone casting…even those pebbles I like to keep hidden in my heart. Every time I send one sailing it just proves all over again my own need for mercy. Isn’t my accusation just a reflection of my own sinful pride? Help us, Jesus, no matter our upbringing or how well acquainted we think we are in Your ways to gain fresh perspective on what your grace and love really looks like. Please help us to recall and savor the words you traced in the dust around our own feet at our lowest point. Help us to follow your example and extend a merciful hand instead of the fist of judgement. God, we know that you hate sin. We know that you hate sin so much that you bled and died at Calvary so that sin could not eternally keep us from You. We know that you hate sin because you love us and want to be with us. It’s amazing. Truly Amazing. Please help me to live a lifestyle of grace and truth…Your word says it’s the love of God that draws men to repentance. Father, help us to learn to live in the freedom your mercy and grace provides so that we can in turn give away to others what we ourselves never deserved. Help us God to write your words of love on the hearts of those we encounter…forever dropping our accusations in the dirt. In the name of Jesus, the most kind and compassionate One…the only sinless One.