“He who is without sin, let him throw a stone at her first,” (my emphasis). Sometimes when I read Scripture I want to disassociate from the brutality of ancient cultures. At other times I struggle to make sense of the do’s and don’ts, the either this or that, the right way versus the wrong way, or the judgments on many juxtaposed with mercy to the few. Yet these words spoken by Jesus Christ stand out today as more than the obvious call to consider one’s own sinful past; it is an external – look at her face before you act – directive that harnesses the inhumanity of intentions with the finality of eternity. These are two terrifying steeds dangerously galloping in the darkest night, intent on lurching the driver and his passengers into the abyss.
If this seems too dramatic, perhaps we have grown lukewarm to the message of spiritual death. Consider the powerful influence of the Pharisees and scribes to judge the misdeeds of others. Even though they lacked the official authority to mete out death (only the Romans wielded the power to torture and crucify), the Jewish leaders were feared by their community for merciless judgments. Jesus certainly knew the dark intentions of their power hungry hearts, yet he exhorted all those present to consider what might befall them. Self-examination – what a worthy exhortation. By heeding this call, even we can avoid the hypocritical and negative accusations that cause us to look like fools and that will alienate us from others who pride themselves in being the more tolerant of our day. Even the ungodly knows to make calculated decisions to avoid committing social suicide. The oldest in the crowd that Jesus addressed were the first to understand this. Their impulsiveness was stayed, perhaps not by looking at the adulteress, but by remembering a longer and possibly more shameful history of mistakes than those of younger men.
Unfortunately I, too, have reacted much too impulsively and emphatically when making judgments – not reviewing the self-incrimination of my past words and actions – instead, whipping those horses into a run without a thought to the cliffs up ahead. My judgments and assumptions have risen from worldly observations and biased interpretations, forgetting that I could not do what I required of others.
Even worse, I have arrogantly believed that I controlled the reigns. In my own understanding, I maintained that a word spoken with authority fell within my knowledge and power to affect change. How shocking to find the target trampled under the wheels! Had I not judged, the grace of God might have brought the forgiveness that truly changes a heart and a destiny.
Jesus once said to the Pharisees and scribes, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one,” (New International Version). This is an amazing statement considering He is the Son of God and will judge all mankind. Yet I hear deadly caution in His words not to decide for another eternal life or death. Isn’t spiritual death what awaited the adulterous woman? She was to die in her sins without mercy. Inhumanity’s justice carried out. Jesus, however, directed these men to look at her; then think about their own sins and the consequences of dying without absolution. For their own sakes, those stones were dropped to the ground. Christ snatched this woman out of a careening carriage hell-bent toward spiritual death because He looked past hers, theirs, and our sins to offer redemption and an eternal destiny with Him. She was given a chance to “sin no more.” Can we remember to do the same for others, and if not for their sakes for our own?