John 8:1–11 (NLT) — 1 Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, 2 but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. 3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” 6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. 9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” 11 “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Justice, tolerance, fairness, equality. Words that we champion, and well we should, not as a possible shot in the arm for our churches, not because it’s politically correct, not because doing so makes us feel good, but because they are at the heart of the one we serve.
When Jesus came on the scene, he forever altered the course of faith for the world. The to do list shrank, the rule book that took pages and pages was boiled down to something very easy to understand..
Matthew 22:37–40 (NLT) — 37 Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
The story that we read in John 8:1-11 has all the makings of a big problem for Jesus. Let’s paraphrase,
A local group of ministers got together and decided that they didn’t like what the new guy was doing, the crowds for his services were bigger, he was healing people on the sabbath, his followers were eating and drinking, they weren’t as particular about washing their hands the way they were supposed to. The teacher himself was known to eat with people who were different than what was acceptable for a person of his stature, a person of his origin to eat with. He conversed with women, hung out with tax collectors, was friends with a zealot, healed indiscriminately. Jesus was inclusive. The pastors and churches of the day were not. They set up stringent sets of rules and regulations, the price for getting in with God was to follow the prescribed teaches of any set of leaders. Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans, Samaritans didn’t worship with Jews, Romans were the enemy even while the religious leaders cozied up to them because of the power they held.
If this all looks familiar it’s not surprising. Look around us. Without real effort on the part of leaders churches today are in the same place. Worried more about playing to the base than reaching to the world.
The leaders in John 8, think they have found a loophole, a way to bring Jesus into line with the way things are supposed to be. To put everyone back in their place…so they bring into the middle of their fight a woman they rip her from her situation, turn her into her sin and throw her at Jesus feet, then dare him to speak one word of Love, or acceptance, forgiveness. They know they have him, they know that now he has to make a choice. Following the law to the letter means that they must throw rocks at this poor soul until she dies, ignoring the law removes any credibility Jesus has with the “faithful” that have gotten caught up in the mania that seemed to follow this prophet from Nazareth.
This happens in our world today far too much. Churches, and denominations and communities draw lines. You either condemn all or accept all, there is no place for growth, no place for dialog, or working and walking in the path of salvation that must be a daily occurrence. We allow the media, twitter, and Facebook to write the narrative of how we deal with people that are different than we are. We follow the path of least resistance, catering to the base. The problem with this is that the person we claim to follow, the God that spoke the words whosoever, has called us to so much more.
Look at what Jesus does when the world around him, tells him how he is supposed to act, how he is supposed to treat someone that is different than he is. He bends down and begins to write in the dirt. Jesus starts doodling. He makes it clear to the loud angry group of people, that what they think and what they have to say really isn’t all that important to him. He is not going to be trapped…and they do what so many do. They get louder, they may have brought in a few more people giving volume to their loudness, they force the issue, and it is here that we find Jesus showing us the best way to deal with so many of the issues we face in our communities of faith today.
He stands up for the woman, and in doing so brings each of those that would separate her from the community because of her issues, because of her failings, because of her choices by simply telling them fine… If you want to live by the letter of the laws that you claim to follow go for it…but…
That three letter word is one of the most important and powerful words in our language as Christ followers. Jesus tells the to follow the law but only if they have never sinned, only if they have never had a problem, only if they have always lived perfectly, never thinking a bad thought, never doing something that was wrong. I love what happens in the story, we all should. It says that the people clambering for this womans blood, dropped their rocks and took off, one at a time beginning with the oldest until the only person left was Jesus and the woman.
I often times imagine Jesus standing up dusting his hands against his robes, and then reaching out to the woman that was the center of attention for no other reason but the fact that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, she was different, she made some bad choices and in doing so became a cause instead of person. He looks at her and tells her she is loved, she is not condemned she is free, but he doesn’t stop there, he also tells her to leave a changed person, to go and sin no more. To stop making the choices that brought her to his feet in the first place.
We can find ourselves in each player of this story. There are times we are the angry crowd, demanding to be heard demanding to be affirmed by God. We want to be told we are right and all others are wrong. When we are there we need to ask ourselves if Jesus is doodling in the dirt as we spout our case before him.
We can find ourselves in the woman thrown down at the feet of Jesus, shamed because of who we are or what we look like or the choices that we have made. In those times we may feel shame, or injustice, or anger or bitterness more than any other moment but mostly we find ourselves experiencing fear. At these times we need only to remember that Jesus was clear about the two commandments that were most important, those two commands are wrapped in Love and as we know Love casts out fear.
Finally there are times in our lives that we find ourselves in the shoes of the savior. With the world around us demanding we choose a side, demanding we accept or condemn based on what society, or religion tells us we are supposed to do. At these moments we would do well to remember that Jesus got down in the dirt next to the woman, he tuned out the noise and the demands of others, and was present with her where she was.
Today as we think about what has been happening across our nation, as we think of the divide that has opened up between communities, about the justifiable anger, the call to action the demand for justice. Let us all take a page from the one we follows play book. Let us kneel down when people want us to choose a side because we are supposed to and write in the dirt. In doing so we choose the side of Love, and grace, and mercy, a realization that we all have one thing in common, no matter who we are, where we were born or what we look like we all must have the grace of the savior applied to our lives, and then must love him and love others with all that is in us. We must doodle in the dirt as it were, because in doing so we take the power away from the loud voices, demanding we be like them, feel like them. Instead if we will doodle in the dirt we will be able to find a new way to bridge a gap that never should have been there in the first place in communities of faith.