Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cast the first stone vs. love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness

1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

11"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:1-11)

The Law of Moses demanded death for this guilty woman, and Jesus knew that. Adding to His dilemma, however, was the fact that Roman law did not prescribe the death penalty for adultery. Furthermore, the Romans had taken away the right of the Jews to impose capital punishment under their own religious Law. Therefore, if Jesus declared, "She is guilty; put her to death," He would have been in violation of Roman law, and could even have been accused of trying to incite the Sanhedrin to rebel against Roman authority. This would be treason; a crime punishable by death. However, if Jesus refused to condemn her to death He could be charged by these religious leaders with contradicting the Law of God.

Jesus was in a very delicate situation. It certainly appeared there was no way out! He was "damned if you do, damned if you don't." It was not the woman who was "on trial" that morning in the temple courtyard -- it was Jesus!

Our Lord's response, however, was the one thing they had not counted on. They thought they had all bases covered; every response calculated and counter-measures in place. What they didn't count on was silence. Jesus never said a word. Rather, He "stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground."

Finally, "He straightened up, and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.' Again, He stooped down, and wrote on the ground". Once again, this was a response the Jewish leaders who had conspired to entrap the Lord had not anticipated. It caught them completely unawares. Suddenly, they were "on trial" before the crowd. According to Jewish law, in any case involving capital punishment, the witnesses must begin the stoning. Jesus wisely places the force of the dilemma back on His accusers -- "Let the first stone be cast by the one who dares to presume to be above sin in the sight of God!" In other words, which one of you is not also worthy of death, if the truth were but known?
After the last accuser had drifted away, Jesus stands up, turns to the woman, and says, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" The woman answers, "No one, Lord." Jesus declares, "Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin." In that simple act of forgiveness, Jesus displayed the power of grace, compassion, mercy, and love. In the actions of the religious leaders the people had beheld the face of evil; in the actions of Christ they had beheld the face of God!

What does all this mean for us? It is easy to throw stones. Any fool can pick up a rock and hurl it. It takes a real follower of Christ, however, to rise above that human nature and evidence the spirit of the Lord when confronted with the faults and failings of another. Forgiveness, mercy, understanding and acceptance do not come easily, but they must come if we are to be ambassadors of grace and ministers of reconciliation. It's easy to be worldly in our dealings with one another; no effort is required. The real challenge is to be Christ-like. When you are tempted to point a finger at another and utter words of condemnation, remember the finger of our Lord as it wrote in the sand. In a way, that finger was directed directly toward you and me. Perhaps our Lord's message in the sand that day long ago was simply a list of concepts and characteristics that too frequently indict us all by our lack of observance: Compassion ... Mercy ... Forgiveness ... Acceptance ... Love ... GRACE!

Peace and love,


"Be still and know that I am God"(Psalm 46:10)

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