Occasionally, our pain lands squarely in the category of “beyond our control.” Events can be products of our conscious decisions, but some are not. It’s possible to blame ourselves in a warped way, but the honest truth is, others’ choices can dramatically and painfully affect us. We know what that feels like, don’t we?
Let’s face it. It’s easier to move with the strong flow of a current rather than be the salmon fighting it with hard-wired instinct. The norm of the culture generally trends hard toward basic things: greed, envy, pride, anger, hate, and pleasure. All these things drive behavior. As I mentioned in my last post, the culture permeates our hearts, minds, and actions over time, if we’re not particularly vigilant. The most attractive presentation drips with the honey-sweet taste of our own brand of justice.
So, where is this going, you ask? John 8.
An Adulteress Forgiven
2 At dawn He went to the temple complex again, and all the people were coming to Him. He sat down and began to teach them. 3 Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. 5 In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” 6 They asked this to trap Him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse Him. Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger. 7 When they persisted in questioning Him, He stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Then He stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. 9 When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only He was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, He said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” CSB
This passage contains rich teaching, plenty of characters to explore, and several angles from which to study it. I could note elements other teachers have highlighted. Questions could be asked of the text to yield deeper thought but fewer answers:
Where is the man who was “caught” with the woman?
Does the intent to “trap Him” play into the context more than I might think?
What *is* Jesus writing?
That’s enough for now. Asking those questions of the text would be natural for me, but I really want to take a closer look at the men holding the rocks. A keen sense of justice brought them to the point of grabbing stones for the woman’s punishment. Every man’s heart was primed to execute justice. The stones had her name on them, every one.
We don’t typically pick up rocks in this country to exact justice (this is when I’m thankful for our Constitution and judicial system). We have other weapons to “serve justice.” What are the “rocks” in our hands? What will we use to punish others for the range of wrongs—from little mistakes to more severe offenses? Silence. Separation. Furious, long lecture. “Word weapons” in our arsenal. Avoiding eye contact. Looks we wish could kill. Property damage. Terribly painful (and punishable by law) is causing physical harm to others. We clutch various “stones” in our angry hands, primed and ready, with someone’s name on it, don’t we?
We don’t live long without experiencing the pain of condemnation in some form. The characters in every story will be unique, but the gist will be the same. We know the scene. In the case of the adulterous woman, the accusation indicates her wrong-doing, something that deserved punishment by God’s Law. Our personal story may include our own poor decisions, or we may be completely innocent (as children, victims of others’ wrong choices, or bystanders). In any case, justice could (or should) be served. When we have the opportunity to see justice done, we have a choice to make.
Note: When justice needs to be done for specific, illegal activity, we may not (possibly should not) have as much choice to influence the flow of that process. Scripture is clear; there is justice and punishment for breaking the law. In the case where we have opportunity, that is the time to think about our response to an offense.
That said, may we never let our keen desire for justice become the emotional hinge on which everything turns. Some relationships offer the opportunity for smaller, less painful wounds. Maybe we could start with those and work toward the more significant offenses. In any case, what will we do? Will we keep the rock in our sweaty palm or drop it?
Jesus diffuses the situation with the adulterous woman simply. He suggests the completely innocent man throw the first stone (v. 7). Did the older, honest men walk away first? Did the impetuous, young men linger until they faced their own denial? We may never know, but we can imagine: Thud. The first rock fell, and a little dust cloud rose from it. The others followed.
The main thing I take away from this slice of the story is the plain, hard truth—I’m not different from the one who has made poor choices (Romans 3:23). I keep hoping this perspective will create a softer, more compassionate heart toward the offender. Sometimes it does, especially when the offense is similar to my own choices. If a gentler response isn’t forthcoming, I want to examine my thoughts and feelings to cultivate one. The other takeaway is this—the only one who could exact real, honest justice isn’t me. This little nugget is tougher to sit with, in my mind.
“Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.” ― Augustine
Augustine isn’t a biblical source, but he was wise. Self-inflicted damage occurs in the unforgiving heart. It is significant and worthy of attention. Dropping the rock from our angry, sweaty grip isn’t weak, and it isn’t the hallmark of a martyr. It can be a beautiful journey to freedom! There’s some incentive right there, but don’t forget the instruction we receive in Colossians 3:
12 Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must [forgive].
If we are “God’s chosen ones,” we are commanded to be the salmon swimming upstream in the culture’s current. Be different. Be the church as our God describes: holy, loving, genuinely compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, and forgiving. We are, after all, forgiven!
So, I turn all of this this over in my mind and think about dysfunctional family relationships, painful moments in friendships, and the devastation caused by strangers. One by one, I want to examine my stockpile of rocks. And, if I’m swallowing arsenic, hoping someone else will feel the effects, I think that’s got to stop.
What do you think? Could we empty our hands and pour out the poison?
Committed to dropping some rocks,
Do you have a rock with a name on it to think about?
Whose name is on it? Is it your own name?
Which rock will you commit to loosening your grip on first?
Why should you commit to dropping this particular rock?
What steps will you take to improve the relationship with the one who deserves justice?
Scripture references from http://www.biblestudytools.com from Crosswalk.com.