They dragged the woman to the temple. Caught in the very act of adultery! Her cries for mercy went unheeded. This group wasn’t interested in compassion or justice. (Where was the man this woman had been with? The Law of Moses said that both were to be judged.) This woman was a pawn in a political game, a useful tool to trap this troublesome teacher named Jesus of Nazareth.
“Our law says this woman should be stoned. What do you say?” they asked Jesus with a sneer, throwing the woman at Jesus’ feet. Would this sinner-loving Nazarene dare to say that the Law should be ignored, that the woman should be set free? If he did, these Jewish leaders could immediately denounce his entire ministry as a fraud.
Or would Jesus dare to call for capital punishment, putting him at odds with Roman law which did not give the Jews the right to employ the death penalty? It was a perfect trap, and these men knew it.
Infuriatingly, Jesus refused to answer. Instead, he sat and wrote in the dirt with his finger. “Answer us! Answer the question,” the crowd insisted.
Finally Jesus, looked up, met their gaze, and said, “Fine. Stone her. But let the first stone be thrown by the one among you who has no sin.” With those words, the accusers became the accused. The trap they had set for Jesus had backfired. One by one, they slipped away, each very conscious of his own sin.
Jesus stood alone with the woman and asked, “Does no one condemn you?”
“No,” she answered quietly.
“Then I don’t condemn you either. Go and leave your life of sin.” ( John 8:1-11)
I wish Jesus were here today to stop me when I have a stone in my hand, to remind me that I am as much a sinner as anyone else. I wish he were here to stand up for those who are attacked and demeaned because of the mistakes they’ve made. I wish he were here to say, “Go ahead, label other people as sinners … as long as you’ve never made a mistake.”
Jesus’ followers need to stand up for those who have messed up, who have been caught red-handed in a sinful lifestyle. We need to say to them “Stop. Change. Leave your life of sin.” But we also need to say, “I’m a sinner too. I need God’s grace as much as you do.”
The church was meant to be a refuge, a gathering of sinners covered by grace, a collection of strugglers seeking to overcome sin. It’s not meant to be a rock-throwing society.
If you’ve had rocks hurled your way, please know that they were thrown without Jesus’ authorization. Come back. Try again. There are good people who are really trying to live like Jesus who will love you, accept you and help you to change. Jesus doesn’t want to condemn. He wants to save. His followers should feel the same.