“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 NLT)
So the last couple of days I’ve been reading through Rachel Held Evans’ new book “Searching For Sunday.” Spoiler Alert: I’m halfway through it and it’s excellent. Had I not had to work, I’d probably be done with it already. In the section of the book about Confession, she offers an interesting take on the story of Jesus and the Adulteress from John 8. I have to admit that when I got done reading it in the light in which she presented it, I was hit by the Spirit in two separate emotions: conviction and thankfulness. They both hit me like a ton of bricks.
To recap the story itself. Jesus and his friends are chilling out, sitting on the ground and then a bit of a scene erupted. The scribes and Pharisees come bursting in holding a woman that has just been caught red handed in the act of adultery. Hoping to catch Jesus in a theological stumble, they toss the woman in front of him and the crowd and ask him what should be done with her.
In the law of Moses, the punishment for adultery is death. There’s not really any room for interpretation. So they wait to see if Jesus will sanction the execution of this woman by stoning. Surely Jesus wouldn’t contradict the Law given by God to Moses. They wait, rocks in hand, ready to begin.
I imagine a long, awkward silence while the crowd, and the woman, wait to see what Jesus is going to say. Everybody watches as he writes in the sand with his finger. What he wrote isn’t recorded, but it sure would be fascinating to know! At any rate, Jesus finally states: “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.”
Oh. Didn’t see that one coming, did they?
So one by one the Pharisees and the people in the crowd drop their stones and walk away. Soon it is only the woman and Jesus. He asks her if anyone stands to condemn her, and she says no. He then says “Neither do I, go and sin no more.”
Man I love that story! It seems like a real “score one for the underdog” type moment. I admit that I use that story a lot when I talk to others about Jesus and why I believe. Usually when I do, I’m coming it at from the perspective of me identifying with Jesus. I’m usually trying to reinforce a “judge not, lest you be judged” point. Of course, there’s always one person, at least, that has to hang on to the end of the story like a dying person on life support and they throw out “But don’t forget, Jesus told her to go and sin no more.”
Yeah, there seems to always be somebody who maybe won’t dare throw a stone, but they’ll sure spit on the ground in front of you as they walk away.
According to Rachel Held Evans, we might be in danger of missing the point when we identify with Jesus in the story. Maybe the person we’re supposed to be identifying with is the adulteress.
Really? I guess I’d never thought of it like that before. In my haste to continue my crusade for the outcast and the marginalized, I think maybe I accidentally left the real treasure of this story buried in the ground when I found a small coin in the dirt above it.
You see, telling someone else that they shouldn’t judge lets me imply that they are WRONG. It lets ME be the JUDGE. It gives ME the air of superiority. Perhaps I don’t hold a stone in my hand for the woman, but man do I have a club hidden behind my back ready to thump somebody who dares to disagree with me.
Wow, talk about conviction.
You see, even as well intentioned as my perspective is, it ignores the fact that I am a sinner as well. We’re not talking just a white lie here or the dropping of an F bomb there either. I have sinned gravely, and intentionally. I’ve never killed or injured anyone physically, but I’ve been horribly dishonest with myself and others sometimes, and God himself knows that I have had my fair share of hurtful things fly off of my tongue, hurling at others like the Pharisees’ stones.
Rachel Held Evans is right. I’m much closer to the woman in the story then I’ll EVER be to Jesus. So is everyone else. She mentions that Jesus hung out with sinners because there wasn’t anyone else around. Man, what an obvious, yet easily overlooked point!
Also, when you’re the sinner in the story, it makes that last sentence “Go and sin no more” a little more interesting, doesn’t it? On page 112 of her book Evans says that when somebody brings that up she’s always tempted to respond with: “So how’s that working out for you? The sinning no more thing? Because it’s not going so well for me!”
Man, I feel that. Conviction.
But something else happens when we put ourselves in the place of the woman in the story. Suddenly we’re no longer sitting on the sideline of the story in a cheering section singing “Yeah Jesus, you tell ’em!” We’re in the heart of the story. We’re the point. Suddenly we’re the recipient of a marvelous gift of grace. We go from thinking that surely we are about to perish in our own sin, to being granted the gift of new life from the gentle man who was sitting there just a second ago writing in the dirt.
Wow. What a thing to be thankful for! What a reason to have hope!
Despite all the wrong we do. Despite all the wrongs we let go by ignoring them. Despite all that we kill. Despite all that we destroy….
We are loved. I am loved. YOU are loved.
I’m not sure that the pure essence of Grace has ever hit me like it has tonight.
What a thing, to be forgiven. What a thing, to be loved!
Thank you, Jesus.