“Let the person among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7
Almost weekly someone is caught in the act of saying or doing something grossly offensive that becomes a topic of public discourse. Typically it polarizes opinion, provokes water cooler conversation, produces great talk radio and provides late night comedians great material with which to send us all to bed. This past week basketball star LaBron James and Congressman Anthony Weiner happen to be two of the poor souls dragged before the brutal court of public opinion. There is a vast difference between the nature of their alleged transgressions but I do not want to waste valuable print here going into the details. If you have not already heard enough you can Google them to find out more.
More importantly I am compelled to focus not upon the transgressors but the way in which our culture reacts to people like them. To be honest I find the rush to judgment and vitriol that so frequently accompanies such public discourse unsettling and here is why. From a New Testament perspective, there is a stark contrast in the way Jesus treated people caught in some transgression.
One of the most riveting and convicting stories in the gospels is the encounter Jesus had with the accusers of the woman caught in the very act of adultery. (John 8:1-11) The religious leaders of the day humiliated the woman by dragging her into a large public gathering in the temple courts and making her stand before the entire group and Jesus. They were already in the process of stoning her with their words; now they were demanding that she be physically stoned. Truth be told, that is not unlike the treatment our culture gives to those today who are caught in the act of some unacceptable behavior.
But Jesus’ response was radically different. And here is my key point for consideration.
All those who are followers of Jesus should respond to transgressors the same way Jesus did.
At first Jesus did not say a word. In fact He bent down and started writing on the ground with His finger. Doodling or prophesying words of knowledge? We do not know what he wrote and therefore that is not important. The point is Jesus spent time waiting on His Father for the right words and right timing to respond.
Silence, in the face of a rush to judgment, is always the better part of wisdom. Holding your tongue and your peace when everyone else is jumping on the band wagon is doing it Jesus’ way.
There is a time however when God would have us stand up and speak up. Under the pressure of persistent questioning Jesus finally stood up and spoke. But what Jesus said caught everyone off guard. He said to all the accusers “Let the person among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (vs. 8) And again He bent down and resumed writing on the ground.
The picture of every single person, from the oldest to the youngest, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, leaving the scene and Jesus alone with the woman speaks volumes. (vs. 9) The Apostle Paul writing to the Romans states the human condition plainly. “There is none righteous, not even one” and “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10, 23)
The only thing that separates the LaBrons and Anthony Weiners of the world from you and I is that their sins were made public. Aren’t you glad you have not been caught in the act of being your worst sinful self and had it broadcast on You Tube? The longer a person lives the more they can appreciate that and the greater fear of God it should produce. Maybe that is why the oldest accusers left first.
When Jesus stood up again to face the woman alone He said something that should give all of us pause before chiming in with our judgmental opinions of another’s transgressions. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you.” (vs. 10-11)
Those who can acknowledge that “there but for the grace of God go I” will be quick to refrain from condemning others who sin. And people who realize the depth of their own sinfulness can deeply appreciate the forgiveness Jesus extends to this woman caught in the act of adultery.
The 17th century English poet Alexander Pope said it well: “to err is human, to forgive divine.”
I welcome your observations, comments and additions to this conversation.
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