Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. (as if he had not heard them) When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
Don’t you love how the Bible is filled with stories of scandal? And don’t we love to catch each other doing something wrong? It gives us such a rush. In fact it's what modern media is all about. Of course magazines and newspapers have known for years that scandal sells; and not just the ones we call “rags.” Scan today's Sunday Inquirer (or whatever you read) and see how many stories of wrongdoing are in the headlines alone.
We have countless TV programs, fiction or not, that depict people being “caught in the act” – and they are on every station from FOX to the History Channel to MTV. And these shows are so popular!
Why do we love them? Somehow, as bad as this will sound, we enjoy seeing someone else “found out” or “brought to justice” or “getting what they deserve.” It almost fills a need in us; maybe it makes us feel better about ourselves, or the things we do, or the guilt we have, or the credit we don’t get… Perhaps if we can find others guilty it relieves our own guilt- if we discredit someone else, we add credit to ourselves…. I don’t know. But I do know it has become a sad day in our society that we now look to other's misery as a form of entertainment.
But people are people. First century people were really not so different from us, minus the technology. So the scene of the woman being caught in the act of adultery could have happened in first century Jerusalem in the temple, or it could have happened on Jerry Springer.
(Don’t act like you don’t know the show…. )
So let's go to the set of The Jerry Springer Show. The stage is empty except for a couple of arm chairs, angled slightly and separated by a square accent table. And Jerry introduces the guest of the day:
"Let's bring out our first guest. Here he is, a preacher, a rabbi and a teacher... an expert in all things God… Please welcome Jesus of Nazareth!"
And to mad applause, hoops and hollers, Jesus, carrying a coffee mug in one hand and giving a small wave to Jerry with the other, walks center stage and then sits down in the armchair.
Jerry asks him a few warm up questions about his education… his teachings and his beliefs… and the audience is buying in nicely. Jesus is charismatic, smart, witty… we love guests like that.
And then Jerry asks the question… you know... THE question. The one that is designed to set up the guest and catch him or her in a lie when they bring out the 'mystery guest.'
And for Jesus that question sounds something like this: “So Jesus… you preach about this God of love… you talk about being holy… you talk about fulfilling the law, is that right?”
Jesus nods… “That’s right, Jerry”
Springer continues... "But your critics say that sometimes your messages contradict each other… your words and actions don’t always match. In fact, some people have called you a heretic who has no respect for the law at all! (he pauses) You have heard this before, right Jesus?”
And Jesus sips his coffee and nods… “Of course. But people just don’t understand- I never broke the law- in fact I love the law.”
“You love the law?” asks Jerry. “And that’s your position? (Jesus nods again) "You’re sure…”
“Yes” Says Jesus.
“Well then let's put that love to the test, shall we? Bring in our mystery guest!”
And from behind the set, come two burly security guards who look more like bar bouncers than cops, and they are dragging between them a scantily clad, screaming woman.
“I didn’t do it! I didn't do it I tell you! It was a set up… those (bleeeeeeep)-ing guys set me up! I didn’t (bleeeeeeep)-ing do it!” She screams....
The audience is clapping and laughing and whistling…
And the bouncers sit the woman into the armchair next to Jesus' seat… and once seated, she stops her screaming, crosses her arms and legs, looks off camera and purses her lips.
Jerry calms the tantalized audience and then:
“Audience, let me introduce you to Candy! Candy, do you want to tell us where you were just half an hour ago? Where were you when these men found you?"
Candy looks at Springer and shouts out some expletives that we don’t say in the sanctuary… and then spits.. and spits again… and audience goes crazy!
Jerry continues “Candy, isn’t it true that this very morning you were caught in the act with someone else’s husband? Candy?”
And Candy- now crying- screams out “It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t know he was married. It was a (bleeeeep)-ing set up! I was set up!”
And the audience is WILD!… Candy gets up and tries to run off the set, but the bouncers go after her and pull her back to her chair… “This is such (beeeeeeeeep)!”
And when Candy gets settled again she puts her head in her hands and shuts down. It doesn’t matter… Springer is done with her…
Jerry steps a few paces closer to the stage, (so the camera can bring Jesus into the shot…)
“So Jesus… You heard what just happened with Candy… and you know what she did clearly broke the law. But we wanted to give you a chance to prove what you just said… that you LOVE the law." (Audience laughs)
And he pushes harder... "Jesus! So what do you think… Candy here has been caught in the act of adultery… and so by the law, in fact by your own law you claim to love, she’s got to pay… she’s supposed to be stoned to death."
Audience: "Jerrry! Jerrry! Jerrry!"
Springer: "Now, as someone who loves the law, you would have to agree with that punishment, wouldn’t you Jesus?
Audience: "Jerrry! Jerrry!"
Springer: "What do you think audience, do we go rock collecting during the next commercial break or what?”
(Cheers and boos rise simultaneously from the mob)
But Jesus sips his coffee as if he isn’t paying attention… not flustered at all…
Springer can’t take it… his show is all about getting people flustered- if there’s no blow up, there's no show! But Jesus continues to sip away, even stops between sips to take in the coffee aroma.
The bloodthirsty audience starts booing Jesus … stuff starts getting thrown from the audience… profanities, oh, I mean (beeeep beeeep beeeep), fill the airwaves…
And then Jesus puts his coffee mug down and faces the camera. Jerry quiets the audience… “Let him speak…Let him speak!"
And Jesus says “Let the person who hasn’t done anything wrong be the first one to throw a stone at her….”
And then without another word, he turns his attention back to his coffee…
Silence fills the studio. Show's over… And then one by one, starting with Springer, people begin to filter out of the studio.
And when the cameras have turned off, and the spot lights have gone out… Jesus gets up and kneels down by the woman on the temple floor. And he whispers… “Woman, is there no one left to condemn you?”
Her head still hangs toward the ground… she has not moved… and Jesus gently puts his hand to her chin and lifts her tear streaked face to meet his… and he says again… “Look… who is left to find you guilty?”
She looks at the empty temple and then back at Jesus… “No one, sir.”
And Jesus smiles at her with compassion and says- “I’m not going to condemn you either… Go and sin no more”
Or in our language…“Go and live a rich full life. Go and live in freedom instead of being a slave to sin. Go and live in the way that you will be truly happy, and be a blessing to others. Live free of accusation… from others, and from yourself…”
Notice that the woman never asked to be forgiven. She didn’t repent for what she had done. She showed no remorse; whether she was set up (which she probably was) or whether she knew she was committing adultery. She didn’t even present herself before Jesus.
Yet He offers her a clean slate. He offers her total forgiveness; and does so, not with a head shake or an eye roll or a disgusted look. Jesus needs no convincing or prodding to forgive this woman.
Most of the time we think we need to grovel at the throne of God and do some arguing on our behalf, defending our actions, and at the very least apologizing for the way we have acted in order to receive forgiveness. That’s a Jesus we can relate to… that's a Jesus we understand. We relate to that Jesus because that’s how we forgive others… after they have apologized profusely and promised up and down not to do it again…
But here we see an example of Jesus’s unconditional acceptance and unmerited forgiveness… even before a word is spoken.
I would like to think the woman took Jesus’s advice and was able to live out everything God had planned for her, and never let herself come under the thumb of accusation and sin again.
But more likely she acted like most of us do… we don’t really 'get it.' We don’t embrace the truth that we are really set free from sin and we can live in freedom.
And like the Pharisees who were accusing this woman in order to (as the Greek translates) ‘accuse’ Jesus, we continue to find fault with one another, and ourselves.
Did you ever stop to think about accusations? When we make accusations, underneath we are after something else.
All of us, on some level have bought into the lie that we are somehow unacceptable- unforgivable. (We talk about this every week) We try… oh Lord, we try to be good. And that feels good to us, to think that there is actually something that we can DO to remain good. Because GOOD people are the people God loves. GOOD people get into heaven! And we like being in control of our own destiny! What power!
But eventually, something… and it doesn’t matter if it’s an evil thought or an act of adultery… something happens… and we fall off the “I’m good,” train. And we affirm (again) that we are beyond hope, beyond redemption, beyond forgiveness. God can’t possibly forgive (fill in the blank.)
So, by accusing, we want to prove that God has limits… that God really isn’t all powerful, all forgiving, all loving; that we can’t just do whatever we want and still get off the hook for it… that we can’t have our cake and eat it too.
Take a count in your head of how many stones you have thrown just this week; hell, just today (or since you walked into church this morning?) How many stones have you thrown at others… at yourself… at God.
And it's not that after hearing this that you will stop doing it. We all have an unlimited amount of stones we carry with us that seem to never run out. But when you do, think for a minute (before or after)
Think for a minute and instead of buying into the lie, meet Jesus on the floor of the temple. He’s the one in the front… but there are no spotlights, no cameras… in fact he is stooped over and writing in the dirt with his finger… waiting to pour out love and grace on all who ask and on those who don’t… changing stones of accusation into stones of mercy and understanding. “I’m not going to condemn you either… go and sin no more”
A Pastor in Southern NJ who is passionate about helping people understand God's unconditional love and acceptance.