The Constant Reminder

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.  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.” (John 8:2-11 NRS)

(Image by Rev. Sarah R. Wastella)

I got this rock in Roanoke, Virginia during Annual Conference a few weeks ago.  I saw it at a street stall selling geodes, rocks, and fossils.  It immediately caught my eye because it was so shiny and colorful.  Someone had taken the time to polish this rock and smooth out all the rough edges.  It is weighty in the hand and lovely to the eye with its green hues and pink splotches.  Size wise it fits in my hand perfectly, as if it had been molded to do so.  I bought it and brought it back to my office.  Now it sits on my desk right in front of my keyboard and in my peripheral sight.  It is a reminder…

In the scripture from the Gospel of John, those that know the Law best, the scribes and the Pharisees, bring a woman caught in adultery, even the act itself, before Jesus while he is at the Temple.  They intend to trap Jesus, as they try to do repeatedly throughout the gospels.  They have a woman who is guilty without question, according to the text.  They present her to Jesus and cite the Law, then they ask for Jesus to advise them on a course of action.  I almost wish the text stopped on that page so you had to pause and turn the page to continue the story.  I believe there was a pregnant pause on Jesus’ part as he bent down and began to write on the ground.  He would take his time, considering.  Not considering what his response would be.  As God, he knew what their question as well as their intent would be, and he already knew what he would answer.  Perhaps he took time to search them and consider all their sins hidden beneath their pomp and circumstance, tucked behind their knowledge and their posturing.  Their darkness kept hidden from the light, preserving their “holier than thou” image for others, as even the other scribes and Pharisees might not know each other’s dark secrets.

All Christ says is, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  He does not tell them not to stone her.  He does not rule the Law unjust.  He gives permission to anyone who is without blemish to act according to the law they cite.  In one sentence he convicts every one of them and challenges them to continue their charade.  They know they have sinned, and they know exactly what are their sins.  They can stand there before everyone who would have been milling around the Temple structure, those following Jesus, and those who would have stopped to see what the commotion as about and claim they are without sin by stoning her, or they can leave.  They know better, and they leave, one by one.  Finally she is left alone with Jesus.  He questions her, “Where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  The fact that she is standing and able to answer is proof enough that they have spared her and themselves the embarrassment of a public revelation of their own sins.  He sends her on her way, but not before he tells her not to sin again.

That rock on my desk, that fits so perfectly within my hand, that has weight enough to do its damage, is my constant reminder of this passage.  Although I might have the will and the means to throw this stone, I have no right.  The right to take a life belongs to God alone.  He will mete out the punishment for the transgression of his Law.  We may see sin and we may speak against it, but we are not charged with punishing the sinner according to the Law.  We will do like the scribes and Pharisees in that we will walk away from the sinners if they refuse to follow God’s word, but we will not be the ones to take a life.  That is reserved for God alone.  I know my sins.  I know the ones that stain me and those that I keep hidden away from the rest of the world, but, like the scribes and Pharisees, I know that they are uncovered, revealed to God.  So I will not be throwing stones.  I will keep this rock on my desk, in my sight, ever present and speaking to the truth of that encounter with Christ.  Like the adulterous woman, I will go my way and, with God’s help, sin no more.

Lord Jesus Christ,
You are the only rock in my life.
Help me to lay aside these stones,
Those which could be used to hurt others.
Instead, let me build up holy spaces and places.
Let me create sanctuaries where we can find forgiveness in you.
When I feel the urge to throw stones,
May I clasp my hands in prayer,
And remember your recognition that all your people sin.
I am no holier than any other.
I am just trying to be more like you.
By the power of your Holy Spirit,
May I glimpse that perfection becoming in me.

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