Hear All of These

Hear All of These

Starting in John 7, we follow Jesus to Jerusalem and into the temple, and we’re there with him for a good while. We should be prepared – Jesus is heading into the lions’ den, to the Pharisees’ and priests’ home turf. Anyone who has spent any time at all in the Gospels knows what kinds of confrontations await Jesus any time he enters the space of religious procedure. Feathers get ruffled. Toes get stepped on. Tempers flare.

Here we go.

John 8 begins with Jesus teaching in the temple when, suddenly, a mob of Pharisees drag before him a woman who’s been caught in the act of adultery. The Pharisees hatch a scheme to trap and finally discredit Jesus once and for all. They intend to have the woman stoned for her sin (as the Law of Moses prescribes), and they rightly suspect that stoning is something Jesus likely won’t go for. But if Jesus refuses, then he’s a lawbreaker who has no authority to teach or influence anyone, they suppose. It’s a slam dunk, right?

These traps that are set for Jesus always end the same way. Those who would embarrass Jesus walk away embarrassed. Jesus is too clever and slippery for them, yes, but in this case Jesus doesn’t have to work too hard to be slippery. The Pharisees’ own self-righteousness does all the work for him. It doesn’t take us any time at all to ask, where is the woman’s male counterpart? Adultery takes two, yet somehow only the woman is deserving of condemnation? The double standard is plainly evident to everyone but the Pharisees themselves, and is defused in mere moments.

“Step right up!” Jesus says. “Let the one with no sin cast the first stone.” But before saying this, Jesus does something quite unexpected – he bends down and begins writing in the dirt with his finger. What is he writing? John doesn’t tell us. We can guess, and many have. But whatever he’s writing, it’s enough to disarm the angry mob. One by one they walk away. Jesus is so engrossed in his dirt calligraphy that he doesn’t notice their absence at first. “Where are they?” Jesus asks the woman. “Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she replies.

“I do not condemn you either. Go your way and sin no more.”

In the Gospels, we see Jesus clash with religious insiders and we see Jesus lift up the broken, hurting, and marginalized. Often we see Jesus do both at the same time. For the religious insiders, Jesus brings double standards to light. For the broken, Jesus brings, without an ounce of condemnation, a call to be freed from sin and remade (and, religious insiders are no less broken than anyone else, but only better at hiding it or substituting grotesque secrets like adultery for the more acceptable sin of pride). When we approach Jesus, or when Jesus enters our space of religious procedure, we’re going to hear all of these. So let’s approach Jesus now and listen:

Let the one with no sin cast the first stone.

I do not condemn you.

Sin no more.

What do we hear? How do his words sink into us or bounce off of us? Has he shone a light on a double standard? Has he defused the shame we receive from others (or from ourselves)? Will we walk away from him or remain near him? What has Jesus just stirred up in us?


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