Some 15 years ago now, I preached a message with the above title. Fast forward to the last couple of years, and I have searched high and low for the archived copy either in my electronic files or in printed ones lying around in various places; and you guessed it: nada; zilch. And yet even so, this wonderful passage and its ongoing application and relevance in the life of the church is still sorely needed; perhaps especially right now. So, let’s take a little look see.
The Woman, The Mansplainers and The Rebel Jesus
The passage comes from John 8:1-11. And in our story, we find Jesus in the temple courts early in the morning right after prayer on the Mount of Olives, as was His custom. And in the courts, he sits down to start teaching, and as sure as death and taxes, the “experts in the law” and the “Pharisees” our text says, brought a woman “caught in adultery” and “made her stand in front of them”. And their challenge for Jesus was this: “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone to death such women. What then do you say”? We then find out (duh) that they ask this question because they want to “trap Him” and by doing so add to their catalogue of charges against Him. And yet interestingly, Jesus at first appears to ignore them and bends down and writes on the ground with His finger.
Now as you can imagine there are many speculations and commentary from the earliest times around this event, with certain scribes mentioning that Jesus was writing down particular accusations of the would-be accusers themselves. But it causes me to wonder, and of course none of us really know, if that’s what He actually did; because vs. 7 then tells us that “When they persisted in asking Him, He stood up straight and replied, ‘Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her’”. And our text then tells us that “Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground”. And though I am not a big commentary consulter when it comes to my own study of the scriptures (though the thesis of others is very plausible), I tend to think that Jesus’ two-fold “gotcha” is enough to cause them to drop the charges and go hide in yet another humiliation by Jesus to these inept spiritual leaders.
Jesus’ One-Two Punch to the Heart of the Matter
The first “gotcha” moment to the entrapment dummies is in letting them know that they need to get up a little earlier in the morning than Jesus did to know that by them stating that women such as her should be stoned was missing a small little detail. For instance, in Leviticus 20:10 (the book everyone just loves), it clearly states that “if a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death”. And then again, we find in Deut. 22:22, “If a man is discovered in bed with a married woman, both the man lying in bed with the woman and the woman herself must die; in this way you will purge the evil from Israel”. Bam! A little male chauvinism twist at its finest wouldn’t you say?
Now it won’t be our purpose today to get into “why” that was a justifiable practice in purging the evil from Israel, or anything else. But the point is that these so-called experts in the law had built an awfully good fiefdom for themselves in adding a whole lot of extra gobbledygook to what God “actually” said in order to keep people both oppressed and subservient to their “all knowing” exposition. Meanwhile, they were always left standing securely in their ivory tower of condescension missing the very texts that would incriminate themselves first and foremost. And of course that is a convenience many graceless church men and women still allow for themselves as well, much to our continual sorrow. For as the preacher said, “there is nothing new under the sun”.
But in addition, as our case in point here, in the “so called” experts and Pharisees effort to purify their people after their previous exilic history resulting from their gross disobedience to what God had commanded them under the covenant; they went a bridge too far! And as Jesus would remind us in a couple of other passages in the gospels, not only did they proselytize and convert people into being monster judgementalists like themselves, they also were actually unwilling to lift a finger to ease these extra-biblical burdens on their followers (Mt. 23:4). And as a result, not only were they still utterly lost, but they had become wandering sheep with no real shepherd in sight (Mt. 9:36).
And of course, the second “gotcha” is simply this, if we look at our text purely at face value. Once the mansplaining chauvinist pigs realized not only their obvious inability to get things in the scripture right, they were also faced with the fact that not only did they now know this to be true, but also the whole crowd watching them now came to the stark realization as well. For they now know in unison that these blind guides don’t know “diddly squat”, and thus were incapable of boxing their own way out of a wet paper bag to find the truth, much less the situation they know found themselves in! And as a result, this awareness caused all of the lost sheep’s eyes to be fixed on Jesus as to what would be His next move and wondering: Could he be the one that we’ve been looking for? The one who would guide the least and the greatest of us into real graceful righteousness (Jer. 31:34) coupled with a spirit of grace that gives life; rather than the letter that only seems to kill (2 Cor. 3:6)? And you could cut their hopeful revelation with a knife, while one by one the prophets of woe and dread exit to lick their wounds and regroup for a meeting of entrapment for yet another day. And that’s the wonderful thing about the legalists. They are the gift that keeps on giving. And both them and their progeny will go to their grave having been right about everything. Right up until the final shovel of dirt pats their eternal ground!
A Sinner Confronted With Just the Right Amount of Grace and Truth
And now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The women caught with her pants down and shamed before the masses, recognizes that her male accusers are now GONE. And though there are those still lingering around with just enough popcorn left for the climax of the show, the woman has her moment with Jesus; the gamechanger par excellence! The man of the hour has come to her address. It’s as if there is no one else in the room. And our text says that he again “stood up straight” and says to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you”? And I for one find his questioning utterly pastoral and healing. For if knowing the history of women in this culture, with the added baggage of adultery as the perfect ammunition to churchmen’s stares everywhere, the question I would imagine also caused her to “sit up straight” for just a moment herself. Perhaps it was the first time in her life she did so in fact. For it was a time when there were no pointed fingers, no threats of male exploitation hiding behind the “cat calls” that would come her way. And instead, there was nothing but reassuring eyes staring back at her waiting for her serendipitous reply. And so she says, “No one Lord”. And the answer that would come back to her was so full of dripping grace and truth that I would bet my last negative dollar, caused her to never, ever be the same again! For the revolutionary Jesus said to this precious would be child of the King, “I do not condemn you either. Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore”.
The Two-Edged Sword of Abiding Stone Theology Applied
And there is in this wonderful story a two-fold reminder to the woman, that then by proxy we are to take and hold in justifiable tension on our own path with Jesus of Nazareth. I know you thought we would never get there.
First of all, I find that most people currently outside of the faith, and even those of us who have had our halo slightly bent most of our lives, really love this story. I mean after all; it is great news. Because the concept of grace is indeed the “thought that changed the world” (U2). And in addition, if there is one verse both the lost and those of us who walk with a limp on the narrow path know, it is something along the lines of “judge not”. Consequently, it is the national anthem of those still keeping God at least a stone’s throw from having any jurisdiction in their lives, and the anthem of those still forever trying to get it right. And well, the point is, in a sense we all are. Even though many like the “experts in the law” try to remind us that they have somehow bypassed these experiences. And so, it is a need of continuance. It is of a “time-release” nature. It is grace on top of grace, and more grace besides; even through the dark glass until He come again. We’ve all needed it. And we must endeavor to keep the cupboard full of such gracefulness, as our both “necessary” and “daily” bread.
But of course in contrast, there is the other side most of those on the outside and us “grace folks” don’t care for too much. The aspect of which Jesus reiterates to the woman in that she is to “Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore”. But before we rush to reactionary mode, and as a shot of “shock and awe” to die hard religionists, this must also reside in the time-release category. It is a work always in progress. It is the recognition (daily I’m afraid) that with each first light “cup of Joe” and daily bread, it must also lead us to wipe off our tears and our dirty knees to start over again in some form or fashion. All the while, the cupboard of grace opens to continue to give us what we need to both forgive, be forgiven; and with that vow before us to “go and sin no more”. And then we rinse and repeat. Again, and again, and again.
And yet the sad part is, most in the church never seem to get this theology lesson. Even now. For we either continue to evaluate ourselves by our own standard of righteousness we seem to be getting right and thus constantly stand in judgement of our other brothers and sisters. Or, we err so much to the side of grace that we expect nothing akin to discipleship and transformational change from those who tip a few dollars week to week to hear us spout of sermonettes of anemia! And right about now, I’d say we are reaping what we’ve sown. Obvious it seems to everyone; except for those that have been digesting the idiocy!
But one thing is for sure. There is a lesson somewhere between the un-cast stones and the “about face”. I like to call it a lesson in stone theology.