When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:7-12
If you ask 100 people which bible stories they know, I’d be willing to bet that at least 10 of them would mention this story of the woman who was nearly stoned to death for being caught in adultery. Few people notice that the dude isn’t in sight anywhere in this trial and near-execution but that is for another day. Alas, Jesus finds himself in the midst of a crowd both trying to trap him in a difficult moment and trying to make an example out of this woman. ‘The law says we have to kill her, Jesus. What should we do?’ Jesus, the ever skillful conversationalist mentions that anyone who is totally blameless according to the law is free to uphold it now. As we know, the crowd drops their stones, one at a time from the eldest to the youngest, and only Jesus is left with this woman. This has to be one of the most dramatic moments in the stories of Jesus: just Jesus, a woman nearly killed, and the deafening silence of everyone else’s sudden humility remain in the room.
Most of the time when we read passages like this, we image ourselves to be the woman standing in condemnation. Maybe we remember a time when someone else’s judgement, harshness or hatred hurt us deeply. And, there’s something kind of satisfying about imagining Jesus dropping a bomb like that on our opponents, humbling them publicly while we get some level of satisfaction. But I think interpreting the story that way might tell us more about who we could be in the picture here. The fact is, what the Pharisees wanted was to publicly shame this woman for breaking the rules that it was their job to keep, and to crush their opponent (Jesus). There are more folks with stones in their hands than fear on their faces. We’re at least statistically likely to be the Pharisees some (dare I say most?) of the time.
In this world that seems to be increasingly harsher, sharper, and in all our ideologies, more fundamentalist, maybe in times of crisis we can be the folks who consistently check our palms and ensure that we aren’t carrying the stones we decry when they fly in our direction. Maybe the witness of people who love Jesus in this fearful and worrisome world is that we could be people who make altars out of our stones rather than wounds. Our wise bishop, Ken Carter, once said, “We often want justice for others and grace for ourselves.” May we be people who follow Jesus to our own softening in an increasingly sharp world. Maybe this is the light of life Jesus spoke about?
Gracious God, thank you for being everything we need, even when you are not what we want. Give us enough grace to love ourselves and others as you do. Give us the vision to build monuments to grace rather than enemies and death. Amen.