But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ….
Most of us know the rest of this passage. These words of Christ have been quoted and re-quoted both in pulpits and Hollywood movies, the places of holiness and places of moral filth, by both believers and unbelievers. “If any of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone,” Jesus continued. The woman had been caught in adultery and the teachers of the law had brought her to Jesus demanding that He do what was right, but not really sure if He would.
In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women
Just in case Jesus had forgotten, the teachers of the law reminded him just exactly what the right thing was in this moment. The Law, given by God and enforced by Moses, declared that sin such as this should not be tolerated. It was the law, more than that, it was right that this woman be stoned. What would Jesus do? Would He call for her stoning? Would He teach against the law that His ‘supposed’ Father had handed down to the forefathers? The Pharisees forced Jesus into a corner to declare if He would do what was right, what was wrong, or neither. At this challenge, Jesus bent down and started to write in the dirt with his finger.
When I look into our culture today, I see two opposing forces. I see those who are chiefly concerned with being right and I see those who could care less what right is. The world has gone topsy-turvy declaring the immoral as moral, the unethical as ethical. Wrong has become right and right has become wrong. Drunkenness is completely acceptable as long as you don’t drink and drive. Killing a baby at birth is absolutely moral as long as the head has not completely left the womb. Fornication is expected. Homosexuality is natural. And Christians are the real terrorists. These are the messages of our day. And with which group will the church fall?
Perhaps a few years ago, the church would fall in with the group that defines right according to Scripture, but we cannot even say that anymore as many mainline denominations have now begun to adopt the upside-down doctrine of the world where there is no absolute right or wrong. But shouldn’t the church fall into the group that is right according to Scripture? That, at least, seems to be right, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we step into the pulpit collectively and declare what is right? As my hand wants to lift itself in solidarity with the group that is chiefly concerned with what is right more than anything else, my mind remembers Jesus writing in the dirt and I am confused.
Jesus effectively frees this woman who has been caught in adultery. Was that right? Well, it must have been right because it was the decision of the source of all wisdom. But it wasn’t right, was it? How many in the crowd holding stones had watched a woman who was their friend, their Mom, their wife be stoned to death for the same thing. “Don’t commit the crime unless you are willing to do the time.” That is a saying that I have heard all of my life. There are consequences to sin and there should be. It’s Biblical. It was right for this woman to be stoned, but Jesus did not pick up a stone.
At the same time to alleviate her of all responsibility or to justify her sin or worse, to act as if there was nothing wrong with what she did. That would be wrong. We would never expect Jesus to fall into the group that portrays what is wrong as if it were right. And He doesn’t.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
He did not fall into the group that was only concerned about what was right nor did He fall into the group that glorified, justified what was wrong. He did…well, neither. Well, as I am sitting here thinking about it, maybe He did both. I don’t know. I can’t tell. Ahhhhh! I’m confused!
The teachers of the law trying to trap Christ were so worried about doing what was right that they became wrong. They were so quick to point out sin, condemn sin, and punish sin that they committed sin themselves. When our first movement is to point the finger and read the rules, we might be crushing spirits leaving people to feel unloved. At the same time, if our first response is to act as if immorality is the new morality, we leave people to suffer in the consequences of their own sin. To love, which is the first and greatest commandment might be to do neither or both or neither…oh my goodness. To hold someone accountable for their sin, but without the condemnation required by the rules may not fall into the group worried most about what is right nor the group that could care less about what is right, but it seems to be the group that Jesus is the leader of. We don’t have to compromise our principles. We don’t have to water down the Scripture. And we don’t have to stone the guilty. We can uphold holiness and forgive the sinner all together in the same phrase. We can hold them accountable for their sin and set them free from it simultaneously. Let us declare the Word of God as absolute truth while also laying down the stones, and may the Lord set people free.