It’s early in the morning, and a crowd has gathered to hear Jesus teach. It’s cold, and they’ve come to hear wisdom from this man who’s gained a following throughout Israel. As Jesus is teaching, He’s interrupted by a group of religious men who have caught a woman (but apparently not a man…) in the act of adultery. They demand action from this famous teacher – the law says she must be stoned! What does he say to this? Jesus bends down and writes in the dirt. The religious men wait. They repeat their demands: shouldn’t they stone her? And then Jesus says some words that have echoed throughout time:
“All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
No one has an answer to that. One by one, the religious men leave, and Jesus is left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. He asks the woman where her accusers are, didn’t even one of them condemn her? No, she says. And then Jesus completes the drama with one simple line:
“Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
This passage of scripture is significant because of the way it reveals the character of God through Jesus’ actions. To really grasp the gravity of what happens in this scene, we need to look at who Jesus is in Christian theology (yes, I dropped the T-bomb, but bear with me and we’ll race through this). Christians believe that God, and God alone has the right to judge people. Christians also believe that Jesus is God made flesh: totally God, totally man.
Following that reasoning, Jesus is well within his rights to judge the nameless woman who has been pulled in front of Him in John 8. Here stands Jesus, the God-man, the beginning and the end – the only person in the entire universe with the right to execute judgement, yet he chooses not to exercise His right to judge. Not only that, but he defends the woman in this story from those who would harm her, and restores her dignity.
Doesn’t it often feel like Christians are the first to condemn others? Many people associate churches and Christians they know primarily with judgement. I’ve often experienced people who know I’m a Christian apologising to me for swearing, or acting in a way they’re not proud of. Sometimes I get the feeling that people think I’m keeping tabs on them, measuring their holiness against my own. I really can’t. I’ve screwed up so many times, and continue to mess up every day. I know how far I fall from the standard I should live up to, and every day I’m trying to live in grace, and show grace to people around me, because the bottom line is that when I was worthy of judgement, Jesus chose to forgive me. He met me in my humiliation and brokenness, silenced my accusers, and gave me the chance to live life in all its fullness.
I pray we can all show a measure of this grace to others today.