I have been overwhelmed lately by the power we, as Christians, hold. That we can forgive at all is remarkable. But truly astonishing is that we have been given the responsibility of distributing God’s forgiveness to the world. One could argue that God, in some way or another, follows our lead when it comes to offering forgiveness to a broken world.
She was sleeping around, and the religious leaders caught her. Rather than stoning her outright, though, they determined to use her to make Jesus look bad. So they stood the lady — maybe half-clothed — up in front of everyone while they asked Jesus what they ought to do with her. [Believing they could catch Jesus in this sort of trap (side note) requires that he had the reputation of one who forgives much.]
Jesus began scribbling with his finger on the ground. A lot of scholars believe he was listing the sins of each person there. I personally think he was making a grocery list, in order to appear faintly aloof. But that’s besides the point. What’s important is what came next. Jesus looked up and said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he started in with the scribbling again.
The crowd dispersed, leaving only this woman, Jesus, and a bunch of difficult-to-read words in the dirt. Jesus pointed out that the angry crowd had disappeared, and then he asked the guilty lady a rhetorical question: “Has no one condemned you?” She replied there was no one.
Then Jesus said — and this is what stood out to me this morning — “Then neither do I condemn you.”
I may be reading far too much into this one English word, but my Bible doesn’t say, “AND neither do I condemn you.” It says then, as in “if, then.” It sounds to me like Jesus is saying, “Well if they don’t condemn you, then I don’t condemn you, either.”
We know Jesus was the only guy present that day who was without sin, making him wholly qualified to throw stones, according to his own instructions. But Jesus didn’t withhold his condemnation that day because of his sin. Of course, we argue that Jesus withheld condemnation because of his love and mercy; after all, forgiveness is his business.
But I wonder if there’s not something else going on here? Maybe Jesus didn’t condemn this lady — at least in part — because the people of God, as messed up as they were, had not condemned her. Maybe this story is a forerunner to these words from John 20:
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Now, these are just ideas. I’m just thinking out loud this morning. But if I’m even just a little bit right, that’s a whole lot of power we hold.* I hope we’re using it wisely. And with much mercy and love.