Wednesday, 12 September 2012

John 8: Cast the first stone

John 8 contains one of those mysterious floating texts about the adulterous woman. Some early versions, my NIV tells me, don't have it, but it's a really good example of the grace of Jesus.

  • Which crimes deserve the worst punishments?
  • Are there any situation which you think are hopeless?
In this chapter we have a criminal. There is a woman who has been caught in the act of adultery. She has been tried, witnesses have spoken against her and she was found to have broken the law. She would have known what the law is, and she still broke it. The punishment for committing adultery is death.

The Jewish have a strong sense of family bonds, the unity of marriage and family is sacred. To ruin this is a heinous offence. This is precisely what this woman has done, and as a result she is about to be stoned. The Pharisees are only doing what the Bible tells them to. 

Jesus, however, does a strange thing. He stoops down, writes in the sand and says, "those without sin, cast the first stone." He's basically saying, if you've honestly done nothing wrong in your life, go ahead and kill her. Of course, none of them can. They've all messed up at some point, and therefore have little right to condemn the woman. The only person who ever had the right to cast that first stone was Jesus himself. He could have quite legitimately picked up a rock and chucked it at her head. But he doesn't. He tells her that he isn't interested in condemning her. Remember what was said in back in chapter 3 verse 17:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Jesus chose not to condemn, not because we were doing it so well already, but because our God is a God of mercy, reconciliation, restoration and mercy.

This passage also got me thinking. I may not literally pick up stones and chuck them at people. Even if it is tiny pebbles like in A Year of Living Biblically, but I do condemn people. I write people off as lost hopes. I see the sin before I see the image of God in that person. I get angry and use my words to destroy rather than build up.

Our actions should be life giving. We should be pursuing everything that gives hope and reconciliation and mercy. We should be a people of a God that saves.

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