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How far are you willing to go to be like Jesus? How uncomfortable are you willing to make yourself? How radically are you prepared to love your neighbor? How completely are you willing to forgive? In his encounter with the Woman Caught in Adultery, Jesus clearly demonstrates that in order to be like him, we must move beyond our preconceived notions of holiness and justice. Read on for more about what this encounter tells us about Jesus, and check out the rest of the Women Encountering Jesus Bible Study Lesson Series as well.
Women Encountering Jesus Bible Study Lesson: Casting the First Stone
Sometimes it seems like the need to be right.. the need to be righteous, causes Christians to lose sight of the more important facets of the Gospel. Change scares us. Conflict scares us. Not being in control petrifies us.
So, we compartmentalize. We categorize. We rationalize.
My feelings were hurt.
I can’t believe they did that!
At least I didn’t do _____!
Wow, that person really screwed up.
This person will never change.
People like that are too ___ to be interested in a relationship with Jesus.
These attitudes and behaviors can result in a ‘mean’ faith.
- A faith that focuses on the problems of others instead of bringing our own sins before the Lord.
- A faith that is concerned with the appearance of things, rather than the condition of the heart.
- A faith that focuses more on who is right, and less on what is right.
- A faith that really isn’t faith at all.. because it is missing both grace and love.
We are so ready to strike, so ready to cast the first stone.
What is Jesus’ answer to this kind of ‘faith?’
He Who is Without Sin, Cast the First Stone
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 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.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 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. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” ~John 8: 2-11 (NIV)
Try to imagine the scene in which this woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus.
- A busy marketplace: many people around. Likely, many people this woman knew.
- The men: How many accusers were there? Two? Ten? Enough to publically stone her?
- The woman: Caught ‘in the act.’ How did it happen? Did these Pharisees ‘arrange’ for her to be caught? What happened to her ‘accomplice?’
- Jesus: Teaching. Cognizant of the fact that he would soon be brought before the authorities on trumped up charges and then publically executed.
The thing is, the entire situation was a farce.
- The Pharisees never actually intended to stone this woman to death. Stoning for adultery would have been contrary to Roman law. It had not been practiced among the Jews for quite some time.
- The story was contrived. The Pharisees did not care one bit about this woman.. except that they wanted to use her to trap Jesus.
You see, Jesus had a reputation for being merciful.– a reputation. Over the past 3 years, Jesus had racked up quite the rap sheet of merciful acts:
- Eating with tax collectors and sinners
- Healing the undeserving
- Cleansing the unclean
- Favoring those who were shunned by ‘polite society.’
The Pharisees knew Jesus would not advocate the execution of this woman. It was such a perfect trap, because in giving her mercy– Jesus would violate the law of Moses. However, if he didn’t show her mercy, not only would that go against his character, but he could then be arrested for flouting Roman law.
It was the perfect trap really.. except that it wasn’t.
Putting aside the fact that the Pharisees literally had murder in their hearts, they once again completely missed the point of faith and righteousness.
They wanted an academic dispute… Jesus was concerned about saving a soul.
They were concerned about who was right and who was wrong. However, no one in that crowd, save Jesus, was righteous. No one in that crowd was justified.. except for Jesus.
Modern Day Pharisees
The Pharisees were not the only ‘people of faith’ who have ever missed the point. This is unfortunately a common and recurring problem in the community of believers. We, as Christians, are the most guilty of focusing on the wrong thing.. of missing the point.
Casting the First Stone is so destructive to faith because it:
- Misses the point of grace
- Misses the point of forgiveness
- Misses the point of love
This scene with the woman caught in adultery perfectly illustrates why Jesus called the Pharisees and teachers of the law, ‘white washed tombs’ (Matthew 23:27). On the outside, this group appeared righteous. They weren’t the ones ‘caught in the act.’ However, they were guilty of the kind of sins no one ever gets kicked out of the church for:
- Evil intentions
- Lack of Love
As far as Jesus was concerned, the Pharisees and their ilk merely appeared clean. On the inside, their hearts were hard. Their insides rotten.
Offering Love and Extending Grace
Many commentators tend to point out that in not judging this woman, Jesus accepted her. That only tells half the story though. Remember, no one in that scene was righteous except Jesus. No one in that marketplace was justified, except Jesus.
It isn’t so much that Jesus did or didn’t judge the woman that is so profound. It is the fact that he offered her a path to repentance, forgiveness, and salvation.
Knowing full well the sins of this woman (and he did acknowledge they were sinful) would be enough to nail him to the cross, Jesus extended grace.
Instead of casting the first stone, Jesus offered love.
Jesus didn’t tell the woman that she could go on living a sinful life. However, by admonishing her to ‘sin no more,’ Jesus accepted that she was a person worthy of love, worthy of dignity, and worthy of grace.
The best part is that Jesus extends grace to anyone who seeks him. He extended it to this woman. He would have extended it to the Pharisees if they had cared to change their hearts.
He extends it to you and me as well.
So, if Jesus refused to cast stones, why are we so determined to hurl them?
Why do we set up barriers that deter people with ‘messy lives’ from feeling accepted in Christian fellowship?
Why is the threshold for acceptance super high for people who struggle with sins that are no considered ‘socially acceptable,’ but ‘good Christians’ are never called to repent for the attitudes and lack of love that literally drive people away from God?
Why do we sing about love during worship, but then as soon as the last ‘amen’ is prayed, pick up stones and hurl them at each other?
Maybe, just maybe, we should follow the lead of the only one we should be following.. .Jesus. Paul sums it up like this:
‘Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.’ ~Colossians 3:13-14 (NIV)
Put down the stones. Love your neighbor. Love your brother. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. Accept his offer of grace.. he has extended his hand especially for you.
Thanks for reading and have a blessed day,