Come with me this morning and picture this scene. A temple court packed with thousands of people in 1st century Jerusalem. A famous sage named Jesus is teaching and some religious leaders bring a woman to him, a woman who has been accused of committing adultery. The leaders want to stone the woman, which in the 1st century consisted of shoving someone off a cliff and then throwing stones onto the person after they had been shoved off the cliff. They ask Jesus if they should follow the law and stone the woman (See John 7:53-8:11.
Jesus’ reaction, as usual, is incredibly complex and fascinating. He bends over and keeps writing in the dust over and over again. Many biblical scholars (See the NIV Bible Commentary), including Ray Vanderlaan (Focus on the Family video series) believe Jesus was writing in the dust in direct reference to Jeremiah 17:13, “Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust, because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.”
Jesus then instructs the religious leaders that anyone of them who has no sin should throw the first stone, and they all walk away because they all have sin in their lives. They drop their stones, and walk away.
Scholars maintain that Jesus was using this subtle reference to Jeremiah 17:13 to say, “Be careful, you’re not without sin either, and if she (the adultress) gets ‘what she deserves,’ then you’ll get what you deserve, do you want that? And the crowd says no, we want mercy.”
Because we all want mercy don’t we? And sometimes others simply aren’t willing to grant us the mercy, and that can make life very difficult and painful at times. It is a very difficult thing to extend mercy to people who are unwilling to grant mercy to you or to others. It seems there are a lot of “accusers” in our day and age, and very few people willing to drop their stones and walk away. So this story in John (John 7:53-8:11) not only happened, it happens. This story is our story, and the question we must ask ourselves is, have we dropped our stones?
What’s fascinating is that the name “Satan” in the original Hebrew literally means “the accuser.” Maybe that’s why it is so painful when someone talks about you behind your back or accuses you of things you haven’t done. Because the source of accusing seems to be an entity known simply as “Satan,” or “the accuser.”
In the past 3 1/2 years my life and character have changed dramatically. A lot of the change was very hard work and took a significant amount of time to accomplish. And I still have a long, long ways to go. For me spirituality is a journey, not a destination, and I need to always strive to improve my character, and follow the rabbi more closely each day.
What I’ve found is that even after 3 1/2 years of hard work, or maybe more, you’ll still find that there are still accusers out there saying, “you haven’t changed, that’s not possible.” I’ve often found in my own life, when I’m tempted to accuse or judge someone the greatest, it’s often b/c I’ve felt that I wouldn’t be able to change like that, or the act that I’m “judging them for,” is something I’m struggling with in my own life.
In many instances responding to such criticism verbally does much more harm than good. Sometimes it is better to take the approach of Jesus when he is finally face to face with Herod. As we read in Luke 23:9, “He (Herod Antipas) plied him with many questions, but he (Jesus) gave no answer.”
When studying this teaching we also have to look at our own lives and ask some very difficult questions of ourselves.
Have we dropped our stones?
Or are we continuing to find people we want to accuse, judge, and shove off a cliff?
What drives us to think we know who someone else really is? Only God knows that for sure. We must remember “the measure we use will be used against us (Luke 6:37-42; see below).” To be a follower of rabbi Jesus means to be merciful to others, and grant them as much mercy and forgiveness as possible.
Jesus teaching on murder in Matthew 5 puzzled me for many years. He essentially says that making derogatory comments about someone is equivalent to murdering that person, and the slanderer will receive a similar judgement. Then it hit me. How many people commit suicide each day as the result of something someone said to them or about them behind their back? Sometimes, sadly, it seems that words have actually killed.
As the great Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “Words create worlds,” and are of infinite importance. After all, Heschel maintained, Hitler came to power through speech, not by the use of tanks and guns. So you must be extremely careful what you say in public, and in private.
Notice Luke 6:37-42: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, `Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.